Stalin and the Comintern

Scott Marshall Scott at
Mon Sep 11 07:41:00 MDT 1995

Louis Proyect:

>I want to examine the case of Jay Lovestone's fall from leadership of
>the American Communist Party to illustrate how harmful Stalin's
>heavy-handed interventions were.

No argument on Stalin and the Comintern's heavy handed interference. But
this is with a lot of hindsight in a totally different political climate and
situation but anyway......

>A faction opposed to Lovestone in the American party submitted a
>document called "The Right Danger in the American Party". It
>basically accused Lovestone of overestimating the power of US
>capitalism and underestimating the militancy of American workers.

Can't this document be judged on it's own merits? Was it accurate or not
about Lovestone positions on the then prevailing situation in the US? Is it
important to realize and weight, as you do only in passing later on, that
both Lovestone and Wolfe became not only professional anti-communists, but
big defenders of US capitalism and imperialism?

Jay Lovestone had as much to do with the pro-imperialist positions of the
AFL-CIO in the cold war period as any other individual you can name. Did
Lovestone overestimate the power of capitalism and underestimate the workers
- I think so, just as today, with no Comintern to cloud the picture, many
moving right, away from Marxism, also dispair at the power of the system and
the weakness of the working class movement.

Contrast that with someone like William Z. Foster. Tremendous roots in the
working class. Never abandoned the struggle, not in the most hellish days of
repression or even when his most heart felt positions were defeated in his

Louis quoting Draper quoting Stalin to Wolfe:

>"You declare you have a certain
>majority in the American Communist Party and that you will retain
>that majority under all circumstances. That is untrue, comrades of the
>American delegation, absolutely untrue. You had a majority because
>the American Communist Party until now regarded you as the
>determined supporters of the Communist International. And it was
>only because the Party regarded you as the friends of the Comintern
>that you had a majority in the ranks of the American Communist
>Party. But what will happen if the American workers learn that you
>intend to break the unity of the ranks of the Comintern and are
>thinking of conducting a fight against its executive bodies--that is the
question, dear comrades?

There is no doubt in my mind that Stalin's influence was undue in the
Comintern. And the relationship of the Soviet party to others was also
skewed - all said with a great deal of historical hindsight. But most US
members and leaders, as I believe most members of all the comintern CP's
were members to promote the world revolution of the working class. They
*did* think that unity of the world movement was of great, even paramount
importance. And the Comintern *did* (despite, not because of Stalin's
influence) play an important role in building up the working class and left
forces in the world. It was genuine internationalism whatever it's mistakes.
Few people know for example the role that a Japanese Communist, sent by the
Comintern to the US, played in helping to found the CPUSA. The Comintern was
objectively a necessary step in the development of a world working class led
Communist movement. So in this sense Stalin was right. Those who were seen
as attacking the Comintern would indeed lose there support in the party.
Actually even the movie 'Reds' about John Reed gives a better more rounded
view of the Comintern than you present here.

>In the following year, nearly everybody in the party lined up with
>Foster, because they saw that Lovestone was in disfavor.

No because they saw Lovestone as undermining the movement and in some cases
because they saw his right opportunism and where it would lead. You
conviently leave out the whole 'American Exceptionalism' debate and
Lovestones role in it.

>American Communist Party certainly did not heed the advice Lenin
>gave to Zinoviev in an unpublished letter. "If you are going to expel all
>the not very obedient but clever people, and retain only the obedient
>fools, you will most assuredly ruin the party."

Only someone ignorant of US labor and left history would imply that people
like William Z. Foster, Big Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, William
Weinstone and Robert Minor were 'obedient fools.'

I'm glad you want to be dialectical, but lets not be mechanically
dialectical. The 'whole other side' of the CP that you describe is not some
separate isolated phenomenon. The whole leadership v. membership (ditto
Comintern v national cp's.) way of looking at the party that is popular
now-a-days on the part of some new left and bourgy historians is not at all

Draper was a story teller and writer with his own axes to grind, I've read
the originals too. But that ain't history, it's his bent and his anecdotal
perceptions which are quite wrong at times. Just a small example. Stalin, in
his speech that you quote Draper as quoting did not just dress down
Lovestone as you describe. He took both factions to task: "Both groups are
guilty of the fundamental error of exaggerating the specific features of
American imperialism.... This exaggeration lies at the root of every
opportunistic error committed by both the *majority and the minority* groups."

Stalin took on American Exceptionalism in the meeting also and said that the
US party must take into account the specific features of US capitalism, but
it must not base it's work on only those features and ignore the general
features of world capitalism. This meeting was on *May 6, 1929.* He also
warned that the three million unemployed in the US were the first indication
of an explosive economic crisis in the US. (this at a time when the
bourgeois and social democratic theoreticians were proclaiming the end of
crisis in the capitalist system, the resiliency of capitalism and in
particular the crisis proofness of US capitalism)

My point is that a one dimensional vulgarization of history is harmful to
any real understanding of the real lessons and mistakes. There is more than
ample reason to reject Stalin and Stalinism - but none that I can see to
jump into the arms of folks like Lovestone, Wolfe or Draper. There were real
political issues involved, the struggle took place on a real battle ground
in the class struggle that had many more, and many more important, dimension
to it than just the Stalin telling parties what to do dimension.

Finally Louis, since you always get personal. You can't really have any idea
of whether I'm a defender of CPUSA orthodoxy, because you show very little
understanding what that might be. There is however, no place else that I
would rather be - that's true.

     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list