The Comintern and the German Communist Party
PART ONE: How did we end up with the organizational model called Marxism-Leninism, or alternately, democratic centralism? The tendency has been to assume that there is an unbroken line between the small, sectarian groups of today and the Bolshevik Party of the turn of the century. When organizational changes have been made, the assumption is that these are refinements to Lenin's party. For example, if Bukharin published ruthless criticisms of Lenin's position on the national question in the newspaper "The Star", an émigré Bolshevik paper, we have tended to assume that this was an anomaly. The essence of Leninism is to defend a unitary political line in the official party newspaper and Bukharin's "indiscipline" was a sign of immature Bolshevism rather than a confirmation of its true spirit.
Tracing the evolution of Lenin's organizational approach to the rigid, monolithic models of today requires an examination of official Comintern documents of the early 1920s since these became the guidelines for organizing Communist Parties. Most "Marxist-Leninist" parties of today regard this period as a link in the chain between the historic Bolshevik Party and what passes for Leninism today. Rather than seeing these Comintern documents as a distortion of historic Bolshevism, we have tended to regard them as hagiography. Part of the problem is that Lenin gave his official blessing to these documents and this somehow gives them a hallowed status. It is time to examine them on their own merits.
The first clear statement on organizational guidelines were contained in the July 12, 1921 Theses on the Structure of Communist Parties, submitted to the Third Congress of the Comintern. W. Koenen, a German delegate, confessed that they were hastily drafted and were referred without further discussion to a commission. Two days later, they were passed unanimously without discussion. The purpose of the theses was to impose a uniform model on Communist Parties worldwide.
For example, they state that "to carry out daily party work every member should as a rule belong to a small working group, a committee, a commission, a fraction, or a cell. Only in this way can party work be distributed, conducted, and carried out in an orderly fashion." Of course, what this led to everywhere is the immediate creation of fractions or cells. Anybody who has been a member of a "Marxist-Leninist" group will be familiar with this approach to political work. Nobody has ever thought critically about what it means to have a "cell" or a "fraction" in a union or mass movement that speaks with the same voice on behalf of a single tactical orientation, but nevertheless the rule--hardly discussed at the Congress--became law.
Poor Lenin was trying to sort out all sorts of problems that year and probably didn't have the minutiae of organizational resolutions upper-most in his mind, but there is some evidence that these sorts of rigid guidelines did not sit well with him. A year later, at the fourth congress, Lenin offered some critical comments on them:
"At the third congress in 1921 we adopted a resolution on the structure of communist parties and the methods and content of their activities. It is an excellent resolution, but it is almost entirely Russian, that is to say, everything in it is taken from Russian conditions. That is its good side, but it is also its bad side, bad because scarcely a single foreigner--I am convinced of this, and I have just re-read it-can read it. Firstly, it is too long, fifty paragraphs or more. Foreigners cannot usually read items of that length. Secondly, if they do read it, they cannot understand it, precisely because it is too Russian...it is permeated and imbued with a Russian spirit. Thirdly, if there is by chance a foreigner who can understand it, he cannot apply it...My impression is that we have committed a gross error in passing that resolution, blocking our own road to further progress. As I said, the resolution is excellent, and I subscribe to every one of the fifty paragraphs. But I must say that we have not yet discovered the form in which to present our Russian experience to foreigners, and for that reason the resolution has remained a dead letter. If we do not discover it, we shall not go forward."
This resolution, which was composed in haste and which Lenin described as "too Russian", was never subjected to the sort of critical evaluation that he proposed. The opposite process occurred. The rigid, schematic organizational forms were not only accepted, but turned even more rigid and schematic. Part of the explanation for this is that Lenin himself died and nobody in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had the sort of subtle understanding that he did about such questions. The party hack Zinoviev became the supreme arbiter of organizational questions and took the communist movement in exactly the opposite direction. The Comintern ended up proposing organizational guidelines that were even "more Russian" than the ones that were adopted in 1921.
The explanation for this is twofold. The party leadership--including all factions left and right--understood only the outward forms of the Bolshevik Party rather than its inner spirit. Also, the reversals in the class struggle in the early 1920s--especially in Germany--tended to create a crisis atmosphere in the Russian party and the Comintern. Under such conditions, the tendency is to circle the wagons and enforce ideological uniformity on the basis of the orientation of the current leadership. Criticism is considered "anti-party" and ultimately an expression of alien class forces. The relationship of the Russian party to the class struggle in Germany during this period will be the subject of my next post.
PART TWO: There are no shortcuts in building revolutionary parties, but the overwhelming tendency in "Marxism-Leninism" is to do things in the name of expediency. For example, the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party always transferred party members into politically dissident branches to achieve an artificial majority. I personally moved from New York to Boston in 1970, and then from Boston to Houston 3 years later, in order to help subdue such branches. The national office always views these machinations as being in the interest of the working class since they believe that dissident branches inevitably reflect alien class influences.
Unfortunately, this type of behavior is deeply ingrained in the Communist movement and got its start in the very early days of the Comintern, even when Lenin was in charge. Many of these problems are Lenin's fault since he was critical in the establishment of the Comintern itself, an institution that embodied all the problems of resolving political problems administratively. It may come as a surprise to some comrades, but Lenin was capable of making mistakes. The Comintern was a big one.
If we examine the relationship of the Comintern to the revolutionary forces in Germany immediately after the end of WWI, we can see how these mistakes helped to shape a Communist Party in Germany that simply was not up to the task of confronting German capitalism effectively. Communist Parties can only become vanguard parties when they establish their authority in the mass movement through victories. The German Communist Party's authority, on the other hand, came primarily from the benediction it received from the Comintern. It was built on weak foundations.
Let us review the left-wing movement in Germany in the post-war period. The German Communist Party was formed by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in solidarity with the Soviet victory, but this party was not a clone of Lenin's party.
Rosa Luxemburg had her own peculiar ideas about party-building and they clashed violently with Lenin's. She made a fetish of spontaneity and thought that the democratic centralism of the Russian party was a guarantee of bureaucracy and dictatorship. What is not appreciated is the degree to which her hostility to any form of centralism had as much to do with the top-heavy German Social Democracy which exercised rigid discipline through a tightly-organized hierarchical structure.
Her own Spartacus League, which predates the Communist Party, was deeply flawed by these anti-centralization prejudices. The League was a major actor in the 1918 uprising in Germany, but it had no conception of coordinating the mass movement nationally. Mostly, the Spartacus League threw itself into isolated street battles that lacked the power to topple the regime.
On December 18, 1918 Luxemburg and the other Spartacists founded the Communist Party in combination with the Left Radicals, another revolutionary grouping. The new Communist Party retained some of the old prejudices against centralism. A central body was established called the Zentrale to provide ideological guidance to the national party, but Communist Party units throughout the country had local autonomy. Also, the Zentrale had no control over party publications.
Thus, it can be said that the Communist Party represented old wine being poured into new bottles. It was Communist in name, but the organizational principles were those that had evolved as a reaction to the centralism of German Social Democracy and to the democratic centralism of the Russian party which they failed to grasp adequately.
A month later, in January 1920, the German revolutionary movement organized another unsuccessful uprising against the government which failed for many of the reasons of the previous year. The objective conditions had not ripened and the revolutionary forces were incapable of coordinating the mass movement effectively. Street rioting and strikes subsided and civil order was restored. In the aftermath of the uprising, Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested and murdered by government troops with the complicity of Social Democratic leaders.
The German left in 1920 now confronted a declining mass movement. The three major parties of the left were also bitterly divided. The Social Democracy had 102 delegates in the Reichstag, while a left-wing split called the Independent Socialist Party had 82. The Communist Party could only send 2 delegates, Paul Levi--the party's leader--and Clara Zetkin, a legendary socialist leader.
The only way the Communist Party could have grown was by patiently persuading the German working class of its message. Many of the potential recruits would come from the Independent Socialist Party, which split from the Social Democracy in opposition to the pro-war policy of the leaders. The Spartacus League was actually a faction of this party.
The Communist Party and the Independent Socialist Party both attended the Second World Congress of the Comintern, the latter as a guest. Another smaller party, the ultraleft German Communist Workers Party, attended.
At this gathering, Lenin discussed the prospects for German Communism with Paul Levi, the party's leader. Lenin was anxious for German Communism to grow rapidly. He keenly felt the isolation of the young Soviet republic and hoped for a breakthrough in the West to relieve the pressure. He thought that the left-wing of the Independent Socialist Party could be split from the party and be convinced to join the much smaller Communist Party. Levi suggested a more cautious approach, one which involved patient collaborative work with the Independents as a preparation for fusion.
Lenin's desire for a rapid victory in Germany clouded his ability to judge objective conditions there in an impartial manner. The only judgment we can render on Lenin's expectations was that they were unrealistic and based on an inadequate understanding of the German class struggle.
A anecdote reported by the German revolutionary Balabanoff dramatizes the problem. At a meeting in Lenin's offices during the Second World Congress, Zinoviev stood before a strategic map of Germany, with Lenin and 3 German delegates, including Levi, in attendance. Zinoviev was speculating on possibilities for working class support for Red Army initiatives. The Red Army was fighting successfully in Poland against the counter-revolution and driving westward. Zinoviev stated that according to Trotsky's estimates, the Red Army would reach the German border within a few days.
Turning to the seated parties, Zinoviev asked, "In your opinion, Comrades, what forms will the uprising in East Prussia take?" (East Prussia bordered Poland.) The three Germans stared at him in amazement. The predominantly peasant East Prussia was one of the most conservative German regions, and an uprising in support of the Red Army sounded like a bad joke to the German delegates. One of them, Ernest Mayer, said that an uprising was unlikely. An irritated Lenin turned to Levi and asked his opinion. When Levi remained silent, Lenin terminated the discussion by remarking, "In any case, you ought to know that our Central Committee holds quite a different opinion."
The favorable news of Red Army advances emboldened triumphalist moods in the Kremlin. Even though the French Socialist Party and the German Independent Socialist Party attended the congress as friendly consultative delegates, the Russian Communists seemed in no mood to placate these "half-hearted" or centrist formations. To the contrary, this congress passed the famous 21 conditions for entry into the Comintern, which they envisioned as a single Communist Party with branches in different countries. These 21 conditions were drafted by Zinoviev with Lenin's agreement. One provision urged by the Italian ultraleftist Bordiga was particularly stringent. It demanded that all party members be expelled if they rejected the 21 conditions. These 21 conditions could only be considered a slap in the face by the French and German socialists, who in every other way were sympathetic to the revolution.
When the congress was over, Levi returned to Germany in a mood of despair. The Independents also faced a difficult situation. Even though they felt constrained by the 21 conditions, they still sought to ally themselves with the Soviet revolution and the organized revolutionary movement that identified with it. They convened a special congress to consider the 21 conditions. A debate was held between Zinoviev in favor of the 21 conditions and Rudolf Hilferding opposed. The hall was decked out with Soviet regalia, which helped to deepen the polarization of an already polarized situation. Hilferding argued, quite correctly, that the 21 conditions were a schematic projection of Russian organizational norms on other countries with different traditions.
236 delegates at the meeting accepted the 21 conditions and 156 rejected them. The Comintern had successfully split the Independent Socialist Party in half. The organizational consequences of the vote was that 300,000 out of 890,000 Independents joined the new Communist Party in December 1920.
Two events slowed the leakage of the Independent Socialist Party into the Communist Party. First, the Red Army offensive slowed and German workers grew skeptical about the notion of a Red Army-assisted proletarian revolution in Western Europe. The other event was the creation of the Profintern, the Communist Trade Union International. This was an attempt to create unions independent of the Socialist-run unions. German workers traditionally had a very strong identification with their unions, even more so than with their party, and this move alienated many of them.
At a ceremony to celebrate the admissions of the Independents into the Communist Party, the Russian-inspired triumphalist mood infected the leadership, including Paul Levi. All doubts about the wisdom of a wholesale ingestion of hundreds of thousands of new party members were thrown to the wind. Levi gave a speech to the gathering which hardly touched on German conditions at all. He spoke mostly about Asia and the Anglo-American world and concluded his remarks with the bombastic salutation, "Enter, ye workers of Germany, enter our new party, for here are thy gods."
The German Communist Party owned its enormous growth not to the skill of the leadership, but merely to the authority of the Russians. Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev looked unblinkingly at this artificial and inflated monstrosity with high expectations. These expectations would be dashed over and over again in the next couple of years for reasons inevitably linked to the ill-considered manner in which the party was created. It entered the center stage of German politics not through strenuous exercises in the mass movement, but through the steroids of Comintern intervention.
The reversals that followed and their consequence on the Russian party itself will be the topic of my next post.
(Source: "Stillborn Revolution, the Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923", Werner T. Angress, Princeton, 1963)
PART THREE: In March of 1921 the German Communist Party attempted a putsch that was the result of its own immaturity and some ultraleft prompting from Bela Kun, a Comintern emissary. The March Action, as it became known, was a disaster.
Paul Levi, who had resigned as party chairman earlier in the year, would emerge as the sharpest critic of the March Action and a key critic of Comintern interference in the German party. He had become embroiled in a dispute between the Italian Socialist Party and the Comintern over the infamous 21 conditions. The Italian party was divided into 3 factions--right, center and left--, but only the right was consciously reformist. The Comintern representatives to the Italian party convention in January 1921, as would be expected, ordered the Italians to throw out the right wing. The leader of the center faction, Giacinto Serrati, did not want to alienate the Comintern but he was equally unwilling to break with the right faction on the spot since these party leaders had a strong union base. To Levi's consternation, a Comintern-engineered split took place and the remaining left faction formed the Communist Party of Italy.
When Levi returned to Germany to sit down with the Zentrale (Central Committee) to discuss the Italian events, one of the two Soviet emissaries who engineered the split, a Hungarian by the name of Matyas Rakosi, invited himself to the meeting. He defended the split and threatened that other parties, including their own, could get the same treatment if they didn't toe the line. The cowed Zentrale took a vote on the Italian events and Levi's position lost 28 to 23, whereupon he resigned as party chairman.
This left the Germany Communist Party in the hands of one Heinrich Brandler, a total mediocrity whose only claim to fame was some trade-union experience and commanding an armed detachment of workers in Saxony during the fitful 1919 uprising. Brandler had few strong convictions of his own and soon found himself accommodating to a rather aggressive ultraleft faction led by Ruth Fischer. Fischer and her followers thought that the Communist Party should be a party of action, an approach that stripped of its Marxist verbiage was pure Blanquism.
The German Communists received a surprise visit from a three emissaries from the Comintern, who at this point were covering as much territory per month as modern-day jet-setters. They were led by Bela Kun, who had led an unsuccessful revolt in Hungary 2 years earlier and was now on official duty in Germany to give the Communists there the benefit of his wisdom.
The party, Kun advised, must take the offensive even it had to resort to provocative measures. Once the Communists launched an offensive, 2 to 3 million German workers were bound to follow their bold lead. When he revealed his ideas to veteran Communist Clara Zetkin, she was shocked. She went immediately to Paul Levi and stated that a witness must be present at all future conversations with Kun, who she regarded as an adventurer despite his Comintern credentials.
Kun and the Fischerites were successful in winning Brandler to their ultraleft schema and he announced in early March 1921 that "...We have in the Reich today two to three million non-Communist workers who can be influenced by our Communist organization, who will fight under our flag...even in an offensive action. If my view is correct, then the situation obligates us to deal with the existing tensions at home and abroad no longer passively; we must no longer exploit...them merely for agitation, but we are obligated...to interfere through Action in order to change matters in our sense."
This ultraleft putschism bore rotten fruit in the next few weeks when tens of thousands of workers in Central Germany were thrown into a ill-prepared battle with the police and army. The Prussian province of Saxony and the neighboring states of Thurngia and Saxony formed a powerful industrial base that had recently been the scene of pitched battles between strikers, especially coal-miners, and the state. Otto Horsing, the head of Prussian Saxony, decided to provoke the workers into a major battle so as to vanquish them once and for all. He called for their disarmament while turning a blind eye to right-wing militias in neighboring Bavaria.
On March 17, word of Horsing's provocation reached Brandler's Central Committee who decided to turn the local fight into a revolutionary struggle for power. To say that they had no idea how one thing would lead to another is the understatement of the century. What followed was a series of miscued confrontations that left the workers defeated and demoralized.
The Communists summoned the workers to battle with words drafted by Bela Kun himself:
"The bourgeoisie stands in arms and refuses to surrender them... and the German workers have no weapons!.. Now the law means nothing any more; nor does Versailles. Weapons will decide, and the counterrevolutionaries refuse to surrender theirs...Every worker will simply ignore the law and must seize a weapon wherever he may find one."
This is an utterly cavalier attitude to take to the armed struggle, to say the least. What happened is that the call to arms was largely ignored by the Social Democrats and the Independent Socialist rank and file, while being actively opposed by their leaders. No significant armed actions were mounted by the Communists themselves. The most successful insurrectionary activity was organized by one Max Hoelz who had been thrown out of the party in 1919 after getting on Brandler's wrong side.
Hoelz was a fire-breathing adventurer who had a real talent for Action. He formed shock troops almost immediately and began robbing banks, burning down buildings, dynamiting trains in a bold but strategically insignificant campaign. For example, the repeating dynamiting of passenger trains filled with workers going off to their morning factory jobs tended to alienate them and the people who worked on the railroads.
The German Communists could not control this insurrection which did take on a certain life of its own. Many deeply frustrated unemployed and lumpen elements joined in the rioting and looting. Neither were they capable of spreading the struggle to other parts of the country. In Berlin, despite their most inflammatory slogans, the masses remained uninvolved. This was a purely Communist Action and regarded with polite curiosity at the best. In most cases, it earned bitter resentment.
Heavy fighting continued for several days until the government won the upper hand.. Despite the defeat, the Communists viewed the events as a qualified success. They put all the blame on the "treacherous" non-Communist workers parties. The March Action left hundreds of workers dead, while thousands of others lost their jobs and prospects for future employment Only two leaders, Brandler and the adventurer Hoelz, were jailed. Most of the retribution was directed against their followers. It is not surprising that in the aftermath, the Communist Party of Germany shrank from 350,000 to 180,000 by the summer of 1921.
Paul Levi wrote a scathing criticism of the March Action which Clara Zetkin supported completely. At this point the German party was divided sharply between critics like Levi and ultraleftists like Ruth Fischer who stood by the "strategy."
A German delegation arrived in Moscow for the Third Congress of the Comintern in 1922. On the agenda of this gathering was to be an assessment of the German events. Lenin had become pessimistic about the prospects of revolutionary upheavals in Europe and was thinking of ways to weather the storm. The NEP was a strategy fit for an ebb in the global class struggle. If the mood in the Kremlin had become conservative, this meant that the German ultraleftists were bound to be repudiated. While storming the barricades might have been an appropriate form of revolutionary activity during War Communism and Trotsky's march into Poland, new realities would call for moderation.
Lenin and Trotsky turned the Congress into a campaign against ultraleftism, the German party's in particular. Trotsky's final speech evoked the new approach perfectly:
"...In a word, the situation now at the time of the Third Congress of the Communist International is nto the same as it was during the First and Second Congresses...Now for the first time we see and feel that we are not so immediately near to the goal, to the conquest of power, to the world revolution. At the time, in 1919, we said to ourselves: 'It is a question of months.' Now we can say: 'It is perhaps a question of years.'"
There was one problem, however, in getting to the bottom of the German fiasco. The Comintern, including Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev, the three main leaders, refused to acknowledge their own responsibility in the events. It was Bela Kun, after all, who had proposed the ultraleft course. It was Karl Radek who had endorsed these actions as well.
When it came time to hand down an official verdict on the German events, the Comintern produced a mealy-mouthed document that let everybody off the hook, especially itself. It stated that the German party was forced into an offensive by the Prussian state and that, despite mistakes, did the best it could to advance the struggle. An honest appraisal would have said nothing like this. It would have been a ruthlessly honest critique of the Comintern and the German Communists. This would have been the only way for the party to learn from its mistakes.
Instead, Paul Levi, the only Communist who warned about the foolishness of the strategy in advance, was expelled for his efforts. He was charged with "indiscipline" since he went public in his attack on the March Actions.
The Communists who were responsible for the March Actions, like so many Communists who followed them in history, were convinced at the gathering of the "error of their ways" and soon became the most vehement defenders of cautiousness. They decided to out-Lenin Lenin. The March Events and their aftermath, including Levi's expulsion, would signal the beginning of the end of German Communism as an independent revolutionary force. The next two years brought further intrigues and reversals, as the spiral descended. This would all culminate in the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, the "Bolshevization" Congress. In my next post, I will cover the events that led up to the fateful congress which sealed the fate of all attempts at building revolutionary parties for decades to come.
PART FOUR: The German Communist Party was chastised at the 1922 Comintern World Congress for its adventurist role in the 1922 March uprising. This did not prevent the Comintern from bringing charges against the German party leader Paul Levi who had raised these criticisms before they became accepted by the Russians. Levi was expelled for airing his views in public while the Comintern architect of the uprising, Bela Kuhn, remained unscathed.
The German delegates came back from the 3rd World Congress ready to accommodate to the higher wisdom of the Kremlin which now preached a more moderate policy, including a united front with Socialists. There remained a core of recalcitrant ultraleftists in the German leadership grouped around Ruth Fischer who distrusted any form of conciliation with the reformists, but the majority of the party was committed to united action with the other worker's parties in Germany.
The general secretary of the German party was Ernst Reuter-Friesland, an enthusiastic supporter of the united front. He was a one-time supporter of Ruth Fischer's ultraleft opposition but changed his mind at the 3rd World Congress. Reuter-Friesland was no hack, however. He supported the new united front policy because it made sense, not just because Lenin was for it.
Reuter-Friesland was a little bit too independent-minded for his own good. The Comintern had been issuing "open letters" to the German party and Reuter-Friesland prevailed on the German representatives to the Comintern to ask it not to go over his head. These "open letters" tended to incorporate sectarian attacks on non-Communist unions that Reuter-Friesland thought imprudent. The Comintern ignored his requests and all kinds of pamphlets, leaflets and brochures--written in Moscow--flooded the German left and trade unions. Reuter-Friesland grew angry.
Meanwhile, Paul Levi spoke for a bloc of ex-Communists in the Reichstag known as the Communist Working Cooperative. Radek insisted that Levi's group be "unmasked" as enemies of Communism. If anybody refused to denounce Levi, they would be considered his ally. Does this sound sickeningly familiar?
The problem was that politically Paul Levi had positions very close to those of the German Communist Party, not surprisingly since he had been advocating a united front a year before it became the majority viewpoint. Therefore, the opposition to Levi was based solely on sectarian motives: anybody who is not with us is against us. Tensions grew between Reuter-Friesland and the Comintern until they reached the breaking point. He made an appeal to the rank-and-file of the party:
"The Communist International, and the idea of international centralized leadership of the revolutionary proletariat will be hopelessly compromised if such methods as smelling out deviations, snooping, uncontrollable side influences and ... interferences into the affairs of the German party are not ruthlessly exposed and eliminated."
He issued a pamphlet "On the Crisis in Our Party" and blamed Karl Radek for having created the crisis. This act resulted in his being brought up on charges and he was expelled. Reuter-Friesland was replaced by Heinrich Brandler, the third new party leader in the span of two years.
The German party was then thrown into a new crisis over the Treaty of Rapallo, a peace agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union concluded at the end of April in 1922. This treaty raised the same sort of contradictions as the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939. How could Communists call for the overthrow of a regime that the Russian party had just pledged to maintain peaceful relations with? Stalin resolved this contradiction in a straightforward manner. He declared that anti-fascist agitation should immediate stop. The Communist Parties of 1922 had not become degenerated and still tried to maintain a revolutionary outlook, no matter the difficulties.
Karl Radek did not help matters unfortunately. He interpreted the Treaty of Rapallo as a go-ahead to support the German bourgeoisie against the dominant European capitalisms, especially France. Germany was forced to sign a punitive reparations agreement after WWI and was not able to satisfy the Entente powers. France then marched into the Ruhr in order to seize control of the mines and steel mills. The German capitalist class screamed bloody murder and proto-fascist armed detachments marched into the Ruhr to confront the French troops.
Radek interpreted these German right-wing counter-measures as a sign of progressive nationalism and argued that a bloc of all classes was necessary to confront Anglo-French imperialism. At the height of the anti-French armed struggle in the Ruhr, the German Communist Party took Radek's cue and began to issue feelers to the right-wing nationalists.
On June 20, 1922 Radek went completely overboard and made a speech proposing a de facto alliance between the Communists and the Fascists. This, needless to say, was in his capacity as official Comintern representative to the German party. It was at a time when Trotsky was still in good graces in the Soviet Union. Nobody seemed to raise an eyebrow when Radek urged that the Communists commemorate the death of Albert Schlageter, a freecorps figher who died in the Ruhr and was regarded as a martyr of the right-wing, a German Timothy McVeigh so to speak. Radek's stated that "...we believe that the great majority of nationalist minded masses belong not to the camp of the capitalists but to the camp of the Workers."
Radek's lunacy struck a chord with the German Communist ultraleftists who went even further in their enthusiasm for the right-wing fighters. Ruth Fischer gave a speech at a gathering of right-wing students where she echoed fascist themes:
"Whoever cries out against Jewish capital...is already a fighter for his class, even though he may not know it. You are against the stock market jobbers. Fine. Trample the Jewish capitalists down, hang them from the lampposts...But...how do you feel about the big capitalists, the Stinnes, Klockner?...Only in alliance with Russia, Gentlemen of the "folkish" side, can the German people expel French capitalism from the Ruhr region."
As the French occupation of the Ruhr continued, economic suffering mounted in Germany as hyperinflation set in. Strikes took on more and more of a political character as workers throughout the country expressed open hatred for the government, despite the presence of Socialist Party ministers. The German Communist Party would once again be afforded the opportunity to unite the workers and lead a struggle for state power. The tumultuous events of the next year would once again test the German Communist Party and expose the strains that reliance on the Comintern put upon it. This will be the subject of my next post.
PART FIVE: The other day I was talking with Scott McLemee over the phone about the fairly unimpressive performance of the Comintern with respect to the German revolution. He speculated that if Lenin had not made it back to Russia in 1917, there probably would not have been a Bolshevik revolution. Which got me to thinking. The best way to understand the October 1923 fiasco in Germany is an attempt at a Bolshevik revolution without the consummate leadership of Lenin. It is a sad story.
The decision to launch a revolution in Germany in the Fall of 1923 was made in Moscow, not in Germany. Germany had definitely entered a pre-Revolutionary situation. French occupation of the Ruhr, unemployment, declining wages, hyperinflation and fascist provocations all added up to an explosive situation.
The crisis was deepest in the heavily industrialized state of Saxony where a left-wing Socialist named Erich Zeigner headed the government. He was friendly with the Communists and made common cause with them. He called for expropriation of the capitalist class, arming of the workers and a proletarian dictatorship. This man, like thousands of others in the German workers movement, had a revolutionary socialist outlook but was condemned as a "Menshevik" in the Communist press. The united front overtures to Zeigner mostly consisted of escalating pressure to force him to accommodate to the maximum Communist program.
The Bolshevik leaders were monitoring the situation carefully. Lenin at this point was bed-ridden with a stroke and virtually incommunicado. Any decisions that were to be made about an "intervention" in Germany would rest on Zinoviev, Stalin, Kamenev, Bukharin, Radek and Trotsky who were the key leaders in Lenin's absence.
At a Politburo meeting on August 23, 1923 Germany's prospects were discussed. Trotsky was optimistic about victory and predicted that a showdown would occur in a matter of weeks. Zinvoiev was also optimistic, but was reluctant to commit to a timetable. Only Stalin voiced skepticism about an immanent uprising. A subcommittee was established to supervise the German revolution. Radek, who had only a year earlier made a batty proposal for an alliance with the ultraright, became the head of this group.
The German revolution became the dominant theme of Russian politics from that moment on. Workers agreed to a wage freeze in order to help subsidize the German uprising. Women were asked at public meetings to donate their wedding rings and other valuables for the German cause. Revolutionary slogans were coined, like "German Steam Hammer and Soviet Bread will Conquer the World!"
There was only slight problem. The head of the German Communist Party was simply not up to the task of leading a revolution and was the first to admit it. This cautious, phlegmatic functionary was a former trade union official and bore all the characteristics of this breed. He had been implicated in the failed ultraleft uprising of 1921 and was not eager to go out on a limb again.
When Brandler got to Moscow, the Bolshevik leaders cornered him and pressured him into accepting their call for a revolutionary showdown. What was key in their calculations was the likelihood that a bold action by the Communist Party would inevitably galvanize the rest of the working class into action. Once again, an element of Blanquism had colored the thinking of the Bolshevik leaders. They assumed that the scenario that had occurred in Russia in 1917 would also occur in Germany. This was an unwarranted assumption that was fed by a combination of romanticism and despair. Romanticism about the prospects of a quick victory and despair over the USSR's deepening isolation.
It was Zinoviev, the head of the Comintern, who was most self-deluded by the strength of the German Communist Party. He wrote in October 1923, "in the cities the workers are definitely numerically superior and" and "the forthcoming German revolution will be a proletarian class revolution. The 22 million German workers who make up its army represent the cornerstone of the international proletariat." What Zinoviev didn't take into account was that while the working class may be united socially and economically, it was not necessarily united politically. This turned out to be a fatal miscalculation. Brandler was so swept up by the enthusiasm of the Bolshevik leaders that he joined with them in pumping up the numbers. In the end he went so far as to claim that the Communists could count on the active support of 50,000 to 60,000 proletarians in Saxony.
The Bolshevik leaders finally wore Brandler down and he agreed to their plans, which involved the following:
1) The Communists would join Zeigner's government in Saxony as coalition partners and arm the workers. The state of Saxony would then provide a base for a military and political offensive in the rest of Germany.
2) A date would be set for the seizure of power. Trotsky was the main advocate of setting a date. Over the objections of Brandler, Trotsky insisted that the date be November 9th. This was meant to coincide closely with the Bolshevik revolution of November 7th, 1917. Trotsky said, "Let us take our own October Revolution as an example...From the moment that the Bolsheviks were in the majority in the Petrograd Soviet...our party was faced with the question--not of the struggle for power in general, but of preparing for the seizure of power according to a definite plan, and at a fixed date. The chosen day, as it is well known, was the day upon which the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets was to convene..." Trotsky simply could not perceive that Russian revolutionaries setting a date for themselves is much different than setting a date for revolutionaries in another country. This distinction would have been lost on Trotsky who had gotten in the habit of laying down tactics for other Communist Parties in his capacity as Comintern official. He had the audacity to tell the French Communist Party, for example, what should go on the front page of their newspaper L'Humanite.
The next few weeks witnessed escalating confrontations between the left-wing government in Saxony and the German capitalist class. The Communist newspaper "Red Flag" printed daily calls for arming the workers and preparing for an offensive against the bourgeoisie. A telegram from Zinoviev arrived on September 31 who confirmed that the date for seizure of power would come in the first half of November. The problem, however, is that an enormous gap existed between the feverish proclamations of their newspaper, Zinoviev's green light and the actual preparations for an armed offensive. In fact, the problem was that very little attention was paid to technical and organizational details up to this point. While the Comintern had stressed the need for an underground apparatus, there was little evidence that the German party had paid any attention to such matters. The dichotomy between ultraleft braggadocio and painstaking preparation proved to be the party's undoing.
Specifically, their military plan required a 3 to 1 numerical superiority over the army and police. However, the Communists could not rely on such numbers. There were 250, 000 well-trained cops and soldiers while the Communist Party membership was only about 300,000, including many people either too young or too old to be effective fighters.
The bigger problem turned out to be political, however. The German Communist Party had simply overestimated its ability to command the allegiance of the rest of the working class and its parties. While this mass party had some claim to be the "vanguard" of the German working class as compared to the Maoist and Trotskyist sects of today, it still had not won over the masses completely as the Bolsheviks of 1917 had.
The German central government had reacted to the insurrectionary developments in Saxony as one would expect. They assembled a fighting force under the command of General Muller in order to restore order. As soon as the Communists heard about this white guard's pending attack, they assembled a conference of left-wing and labor leaders in Chemnitz, Saxony on October 21 to put together a united defense against the counter-revolution.
Aside from 66 Communist delegates, there were 140 delegates from factory councils, 122 representatives of labor unions, 79 delegates from control commissions, 15 delegates from action committees, 16 from unemployed committees and 7 from the Socialist Party. Brandler took the floor and called for a general strike. His call was met by stony silence. What he had not counted on was the hostility of the rest of the workers movement. As much as they feared the consequences of General Muller's offensive, they were not ready to follow the lead of a sectarian Communist Party that had unilaterally made decisions for the mass movement.
On the day of the conference, the German army marched into Saxony and the Communist Party was forced to call of its revolution. Or, to be more accurate, the Communist Party was forced to call off the revolution of Zinoviev, Radek, Stalin and Trotsky.
The consequences of this defeat were enormous. They had an effect on internal Russian politics which in turn had an effect on the Comintern. The net result was to increase to an even greater degree the control over the Communist Parties of the world and to foist upon them an ultra-centralized model that was called "Bolshevism" but had little to do with Lenin's party. This was accomplished at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern which is the topic of my next post.
PART SIX: The German Communist Party went through 3 wrenching experiences from 1921 to 1923.
1) Bela Kuhn, the Comintern agent "assigned" to Germany, inspired the party to take part in the ultraleft 1921 putsch. Paul Levi, the German Communist Party leader, objected to this course and spoke up publicly. He was expelled for his trouble.
2) Levi was replaced by Ernst Reuter-Friesland, who objected to Comintern "intervention" in German trade union politics. He was also accused of being too friendly to the recently expelled Levi who had argued for a united front of working class parties, now official Communist policy. Reuter-Friesland was expelled in 1922.
3) After Reuter-Friesland's expulsion, the mediocre Heinrich Brandler took over. Summoned to Moscow, Brandler, against his own instincts, was persuaded to embark on a fight for state power in early November, 1923. Trotsky's role was to convince Brandler's and to set a fixed date. When the isolated German Communist Party failed to lead the masses to power, the Comintern once again found a convenient scapegoat in Brandler. He was expelled and replaced by the ultraleftist Ruth Fischer, who had been lining up support in the USSR.
While these wrenching changes were being foisted on the German Communist Party, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was going through its own tumult. Factional lines between the triumvirate of Zinoviev, Stalin and Kamenev on one hand, and Trotsky on the other were being drawn. The triumvirate decided to use the German events as a bludgeon against Trotsky, since Karl Radek, his close ally, was the chief architect of the failed German revolution. The scapegoating of Radek was in line with the degenerating state of affairs in Russian politics.
The Russian party had become more and more bureaucratized. Lenin proposed to Trotsky that they wage a fight against Stalin, who they saw as a emerging bureaucratic dictator. Stalin's heavy-handed treatment of the Georgian nationality particularly incensed Lenin. When Lenin's wife Krupskaya was dispatched by Lenin to gather information on Stalin's handling of the Georgians, he treated her rudely. Lenin interpreted this as a declaration of war.
Meanwhile Trotsky had developed criticisms of the NEP. He thought that too many concessions were being made to the peasantry and to the NEP-men. Trotsky won the support of many veteran Bolsheviks who were disturbed by the trends in the party and nation. They put forward a New Course that articulated their ideas on the direction the Soviet Union should take. It was the first formal critique of the embryonic Stalinist system. In a letter to branches of the Communist Party, Trotsky defended the New Course:
"Away with passive obedience, with mechanical leveling by the authorities, with suppression of personality, with servility, and with careerism! A Bolshevik is not merely a disciplined man [sic]: he is a man who in each case and on each question forges a firm opinion of his own and defends it courageously and independently not only against his enemies but inside his own party."
While Trotsky surely believed these words, it is regrettable that he did not take them seriously himself when he was wearing down the hapless Brandler. It was a servile Brandler who decided to plunge ahead with the foolish bid for state power in Germany and it was the decidedly courageous Paul Levi who would have argued Trotsky down.
In any event, Trotsky's letter captured the imagination of many Communists. An organized grouping already existed that concurred with many of Trotsky's New Course criticisms, even though the group could hardly be considered Trotskyist. While it included his close allies like Preobrazhensky and Antonov-Ovseenko, it also included members of the ultraleft Workers Opposition. Shortly after the opposition emerged, it began to win followers everywhere. At least one-third of the Red Army party units sided with the opposition as did a majority of the student organizations.
The triumvirate launched a bitter and unprincipled counter-attack which culminated in the thirteenth party conference in May, 1924. They did everything they could to turn the fight into one of the Old Bolsheviks versus the upstart. Trotsky was depicted as "anti-party", a rather inflammatory but meaningless term that is often used myself against factional opponents in any internal struggle in a "Marxist-Leninist" group. While Trotsky spoke in the name of the workers, the triumvirate claimed that he was really articulating the interests of the students and intelligentsia. In other words, he was a spokesman for the petty-bourgeoisie. Finally, they said his hatred for the party machine indicated that he continued to harbor anti-Leninist sentiments. He was an unreformed semi-Menshevik.
In brief, all of the methods of dehumanizing and smashing a political opponent were mobilized against Trotsky. He was a petty-bourgeois and a Menshevik. He did not believe in the primacy of the working class. The triumvirate's underhanded attack on Trotsky is of course the first line of defense of so-called "Marxist-Leninists". What better way to demonize one's political opponents than by treating them as a wolf in sheep's clothing. Bolshevik in name only, the opposition was in league with the counter-revolution.
The problem that the triumvirate faced was that Trotsky had an unblemished reputation internationally. He was considered to be the preeminent leader of the Russian Revolution, next to Lenin. When word was received of the anti-Trotsky crusade, the French and Polish Communist Parties protested and demanded that the differences between the two factions be resolved in a comradely manner. Unfortunately, most of the other Communist leaders had long given up any pretense of independence. In the process of eviscerating the German Communist Party leadership, the Comintern eliminated the possibility of independent voices being heard against bureaucratic maneuvers. Unfortunately, Trotsky himself had participated in the weakening of the German party. At the May, 1924 Russian CP conference, only the French delegate Boris Souvarine stood up for Trotsky. The rest of the delegates joined in a procession of anti-Trotsky denunciations.
A month later the "Bolshevization" Fifth Congress of the Comintern took place. This congress was designed by Zinoviev and Stalin to export the monolithic model that the Russian party had adopted. Whatever independence remained in the world-wide Communist movement would soon disappear after this congress. Zinoviev and Stalin had one and one interest only: to line up the world's revolutionary forces behind their faction. Ironically, the model that this monstrous Comintern congress adopted was identical to the one that the world Trotskyist movement itself adopted. This "Marxist-Leninist" monstrosity has been the organizational lynch-pin of all party-building attempts from 1924 on. Trotskyists have always disavowed the political decisions made at this congress, but have never addressed the organizational methodology that was ratified at the same time. The bureaucratic politics and the monolithic party-building model go hand in hand.
The Fifth Congress gave the new leader of the German Communist Party, Ruth Fischer, the opportunity to rail against Radek, Trotsky and Brandler. They were all Mensheviks, opportunists and "liquidators of revolutionary principle." In the words of Isaac Deutscher, "she called for a monolithic International, modelled on the Russian party, from which dissent and contest of opinion would be banished. 'This world congress should not allow the International to be transformed into an agglomeration of all sorts of trends; it should forge ahead and embark on the road which leads to a single Bolshevik world party.'"
The Statutes of the Communist International adopted at the fifth congress were a rigid, mechanical set of rules for building Communist Parties. All of the Communist Parties were subordinate to the Comintern and members of the parties had to obey all decisions of the Comintern. The world congress of the Comintern would decide the most important programmatic, tactical and organizational questions of the Comintern as a whole and its individual sections. It would be appropriate, for example, for the Comintern to overrule a member party that had decided to support Trotsky's New Course. The Statutes also included the sort of ridiculous measures that mark most of the sect-cults of today. For example, statute 35 declares that:
"Members of the CI may move from one country to another only with the consent of the central committee of the section concerned. Communists who have changed their domicile are obliged to join the section of the country in which they reside. Communists who move to another country without the consent of the CC of their section may not be accepted as members of another section of the CI."
It was a ruling like this that was used as the pretext to expel Peter Camejo, long-time leader of the American Socialist Workers Party. Camejo had moved to Venezuela for a year to take a leave of absence to study Lenin and develop a critique of SWP sectarianism. When he returned to the United States, he was prevented from rejoining because his move was "unauthorized." He was victimized for his political beliefs rather than any form of "indiscipline." Compare these unbending strictures with the norms of the Bolshevik Party. In the Bolshevik Party, there was no such thing as formal membership. A Bolshevik was simply somebody who agreed with the general orientation of Iskra. Nobody had to get permission to transfer from one Bolshevik branch to another because such a concept was alien to the way the free-wheeling Bolsheviks functioned.
Even more insidious than the Statutes were the Theses of the Fifth Congress on the Propaganda Activities of the CI and its sections. This document sets in concrete the methodology of dividing every serious political disagreement into a battle between the two major classes in society. It states:
"Struggles within the CI are at the same time ideological crises within the individual parties. Right and left political deviations, deviations from Marxism-Leninism, are connected with the class ideology of the proletariat.
Manifestations of crisis at the second world congress and after were precipitated by 'left infantile sicknesses', which were ideologically a deviation from Marxism-Leninism towards syndicalism....The present internal struggles in some communist parties, the beginning of which coincided with the October defeat in Germany, are ideological repercussions of the survivals of traditional social-democratic ideas in the communist party. The way to overcome them is by the BOLSHEVIZATION OF THE COMMUNIST PARTIES. Bolshevization in this context means the final ideological victory of Marxism-Leninism (or in other words Marxism in the period of imperialism and the epoch of the proletarian revolution) over the 'Marxism' of the Second International and the syndicalist remnants."
So the legacy of the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern was organizational rigidity and ideological conformity. This has been the unexamined heritage of the Marxist-Leninist movement since the 1920s. Any attempt to veer from this method has been dubbed "Menshevik." Zinoviev was the architect of these measures. He himself was soon deposed by Stalin who found the guidelines perfect for his own bureaucratic consolidation. "Trotskyism" soon entered the vocabulary of curse-words that now included "Menshevik", "opportunist" or "syndicalist".
The Comintern was transformed by these measures, even though the seeds of the transformation were present at the time of the 21 Conditions. There were signs that Lenin was troubled by the drift of the Comintern. He considered moving the headquarters to Western Europe where the Russian influence would be much less preponderant. He also was developing a critique of the organizational model of "democratic centralism" that had been encoded in the Second World Congress in a document he found "all too Russian".
But Lenin did not survive his stroke. We have no way of knowing what the outcome would have been had he lived. After all, Stalin's power did not rest on his charisma but on his roots in a powerful social layer: the state bureaucracy. The only way that history can be changed is not by rewriting it but by creating it anew. We have the opportunity today to uproot this rotten "Bolshevization" methodology which belongs to the tortured early years of the Soviet Union.
In my final post in this series, I will examine the impact of the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern on the American Communist Party which tried to apply these precepts to their own organization with fateful results.
PART SEVEN: Like the German party, the American Communists were molded by the Comintern during the 1920s. And like the German party, the transformation took some time. In 1917, the people who would go on to form the Communist Party in this country had no inkling of what a "Marxist-Leninist" party was. For example, Charles E. Ruthenberg explained Bolshevism in 1919 not as something "strange and new", but something similar to the revolutionary traditions of the United States. His own Socialist-syndicalist background led him to believe that the Soviet state was a "Socialist industrial republic."
The process of transforming the American movement into a caricature of Lenin's party took a number of years and it was the authority of the Comintern that made this transformation possible. After all, if the Russians tell us to have "democratic centralism", they must know what they're talking about. They do have state power.
The first organizational expression of the American Communist movement showed its roots in the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs. The party was organized on the basis of branches rather than cells, as the Comintern dictated. Another feature of the American Communist movement that was distinct from what is commonly known as "democratic centralism" was the open debates that various factions took part in. While it is beyond the scope of this article to trace all the divisions within the American movement, suffice it to say that they tended to reflect very real differences about the character of the movement--whether it should orient to the more radicalized foreign language speaking workers, or develop roots in the English speaking sector of the class. The Comintern, needless to say, used all of its power to shape the direction of American revolutionary politics despite Zinoviev's open admission in 1924 that "We know England so little, almost as little as America."
The Fourth National Convention of the Communist Party was held in Chicago, Illinois in August, 1925. This convention was inspired by the Bolshevization World Congress of the Comintern that was held in 1924. The American delegates came to the United States with the understanding that their party would adopt more stringent organizational norms in line with Zinoviev's directives. To give you a sense of the importance of the language question, the proceedings of the convention report that there were 6,410 Finnish members as opposed to 2,282 English speaking members.
The American party had its own dissident minority that the new "Bolshevization" policy could be used as a cudgel against. This minority was led by one Ludwig Lore, who was the main demon of the American movement as Leon Trotsky was in the Soviet movement. The Majority Resolution laid down the law against Lore:
"We also endorse fully and pledge our most active support to the Comintern and Parity Commission decisions providing for the liquidation of Loreism in our Party. We demand that the Party be united in a uncompromising struggle against this dangerous right wing tendency. We pledge our fullest support to the whole Comintern program for Bolshevizing our Party, including a militant fight against the right wing, the organization of the Party on the basis of shop nuclei, and the raising of the theoretical level of our membership."
This is quite a mouthful. They are going to liquidate a dangerous right wing tendency and reconstitute the party on the basis of factory cells all in one fell swoop. And "the raising of the theoretical level of our membership" can mean only one thing. They are going to get politically indoctrinated by the Zinoviev-Kamenev-Stalin faction in order to destroy all of its opponents wherever they appear.
Poor Ludwig Lore was in a political fight with other leading Communists about how to relate to the Lafollette Farmer-Labor Party. This third party was an expression of American populism and it was not clear which direction it was going. The disagreements over how to approach it are similar to the sorts of disagreements that crop up today about how to regard, for example, the Nader presidential campaign.
So Lore found himself in a bitter dispute about a purely American political question. What he didn't figure out, however, was that he had no business being open-minded about Trotsky while this dispute was going on. Lore had befriended Trotsky during a visit to the USSR in 1917 and retained warm feelings toward him, just as the French Communist Boris Souvarine did. Not surprisingly, Lore had very little use for Zinoviev. On one occasion, according to Theodore Draper, Lore told Zinoviev to his face that his information about the American labor movement was questionable. Considering Zinoviev's track record in Germany, this hardly comes as a surprise.
What really got his name in the Comintern's little black book, however, was his caustic observations about the infamous "Bolshevization" World Congress of March, 1924:
"The Third International changes its tactics, nay, even its methods, every day, and if need be, even oftener. It utterly disregards its own guiding principles, crushes today the these it adopted only yesterday, and adapts itself in every country to new situations which may offer themselves. The Communist International is, therefore, opportunistic in its methods to the most extreme degree, but since it keeps in its mind the one and only revolutionary aim, the reformist method works for the revolution and thus loses its opportunistic character."
This was just what the Comintern would not tolerate at this point, an independent thinker. Lore was doomed.
The "Resolution on Bolshevization of the Party" spells out how the American Communists would turn over a new leaf and get tough with all the right-wing elements in the party. "...the task of Bolshevization presents itself concretely to our Party as the task of completely overwhelming the organizational and ideological remnants of our social-democratic inheritance, of eradicating Loreism, of making out of the Party a functioning organism of revolutionary proletarian leadership." And so Lore was expelled at this convention.
The party was re-organized on the basis of factory cells and a rigid set of organizational principles were adopted. For example, it stipulated that "Wherever three or more members, regardless of their nationality or present federation membership, are found to be working in the same shop, they shall be organized into a shop nucleus. The nucleus collects the Party dues and takes over all the functions of a Party unit." What strikes one immediately is that there is absolutely no consideration in the resolution about whether or not a factory-based party unit makes political sense. It is simply a mechanical transposition of Comintern rules, which in themselves are based on an undialectical understanding of Lenin's party.
The expulsion of Lore and the new organizational guidelines was adopted unanimously by the delegates, including two men who would go on to found American Trotskyism: James P. Cannon and Vincent Ray Dunne. Cannon and Dunne are regarded as saints by all of the Trotskyist sects, but nobody has ever tried to explain why Cannon and Dunne could have cast their votes for such abysmal resolutions. There really is only one explanation: their understanding of Bolshevism came from Zinoviev rather than Lenin.
Cannon's myopia on these sorts of questions stayed with him through his entire life. In his "First Ten Years of American Communism", he describes Lore as someone who never "felt really at home in the Comintern" and who never became an "all-out communist in the sense that the rest of us did." That says more about Cannon than it does about Lore. Who could really feel at home in the Comintern? This bureaucratic monstrosity had replaced the heads of the German Communist Party 3 times in 3 years. It had intruded in the affairs of the German Communist Party as well, coming up with the wrong strategy on a consistent basis. Those who "felt at home" in the Comintern after 1924, as James P. Cannon did, would never really be able to get to the bottom of the problem. Furthermore, Cannon himself took the organizational principles of the 1925 Communist Party convention and used them as the basis for American Trotskyism as well.
Zinoviev was responsible for not only ostracizing Trotsky in the Russian party, but Lore in the American party as well. Zinoviev was a master of casting people into Menshevik hell. Cannon himself was plenty good at this as well. Over and over again in American Trotskyist history, there were others who were to face ostracism just like Lore. Schachtman in the 1930s, Cochran in the 1950s and Camejo in the 1980s. In every case, the current party leadership was defending the long-term historical interests of the proletariat while the dissident were reflecting petty-bourgeois Menshevik influences. What garbage.
Cannon's views on Zinoviev were those of a student toward a influential professor. In "The First Ten Years of American Communism", Cannon pays tribute to the dreadful Zinoviev: "As far as I know, Zinoviev did not have any special favorites in the American party. The lasting personal memory I have of him is of his patient and friendly efforts in 1925 to convince both factions of the necessity of party peace and cooperation, summed up in his words to Foster which I have mentioned before: 'Frieden ist besser.' ('Peace is Better')."
What a stunning misunderstanding of the events of 1924-1925. Zinoviev had broken the back of the German Communist Party and the Soviet party and now was doing everything he could to destroy any independent voices in the American party. Zinoviev himself would soon be a victim of the same process. Yesterday's Bolshevik would become the Menshevik of 1926 and 1927.
The sectarian and rigidity of the Comintern party-building model are still upheld by the Trotskyists and other "Marxist-Leninists" of today. If these groups were as critical of their own history and ideas as they were of the ruling class, much improvement could obtain. This is not something to be hoped for. Those of us who prefer to think for ourselves must create our own organizational and political solutions, just as Lenin did in turn-of-the-century Russian. Any effort which falls short of this will not produce the outcome we so desperately need: the abolition of the capitalist system and the development of socialism.