Bolsheviks and the national question, 1917-23

Mark Jones markjones011 at
Thu Aug 29 15:25:40 MDT 2002

At 29/08/2002 20:41, Jim Craven wrote:

>I plan to put out some of the transcripts of Dimitrov's trial as they
>contain concepts and sources of inspiration very relevant for today's

Excellent idea, the more on Dimitrov the better. There is a very 
interesting paper by Abu Nasr, who may still be on this List, about 
Dimitrov, the Comintern and the pan-Arab struggles of the 1930s. Too long 
to post but I have it if anyone is interested.

It begins like this:

In 1957 Walter Laqueur began his study Communism and Nationalism in the 
Middle East declaring that the Middle East was in ferment and would remain 
in ferment because it has "remained a vacuum between the big powers, the 
passive recipient, not the subject, of historical forces." It is 
undeniable, of course, that the members of Communist parties of Middle 
Eastern colonial territories were not among the great powers that 
determined the destinies of the world. Insofar as they were in a position 
to change historical forces in their respective countries, however, they 
were, in fact, far from passive.
Indeed, their activity is demonstrated by the fact that although the 
Communists in Syria and Lebanon and those in Palestine received the same 
guidance from the Comintern and sought to carry out the same strategic 
policy, they developed distinct approaches to their work of contending 
with, and not passively receiving, the rule of the big powers. Change was 
in the summer air as 513 delegates from around the world converged on 
Moscow, capital of the world revolution, for the Seventh Congress of the 
Communist International. The gathering, that was to last nearly one month, 
opened ceremoniously in the Kremlin's Hall of Columns at 8:00 p.m. on 25 
July 1935 under the gaze of Iosif Stalin and other leaders of international 
Communism. As the German Communist leader Wilhelm Pieck addressed the 
session on the activity of the International since its previous congress in 
1928, the delegates of five Arab Communist parties listened. Ridwân al-Hilw 
and M. Ashqar from Palestine, and Khâlid Bakdâsh and Yûsuf Khattâr al-Hilw 
from the Communist Party in Syria and Lebanon, had joined delegates from 
Egypt, Iraq and North Africa at a meeting which marked a turning point in 
Communist strategy worldwide.  The Sixth Congress, Pieck told his audience, 
had correctly predicted the continuation of the revolutionary upsurge.
Events in China and elsewhere dictated a course of "defending the vital 
interests of the toiling masses, and "intensifying their ability to fight 
increasing exploitation and oppression."  "Class against class!" became the 
slogan and the world Communist movement strove to break up the bloc of the 
Social Democrats and the bourgeoisie by focusing criticism on the 
Social-Democratic leadership and its policy of cooperation with the 
capitalists. Yet Communist Parties around the world had made mistakes in 
implementing this approach, Pieck told the Congress, and there arose the 
"distorted idea" that the Comintern line precluded a united front. This had 
never been the case; and now the struggle against fascism, which had taken 
power in Germany since the last Congress, required as broad a front as 
possible, not only in defense of the rights of the working class, but in 
defense of democratic rights in general.  Not "class against class" but 
"united front against fascism and war" was the new slogan of the Communist 
International. Although the new watchword marked a radical reversal of the 
earlier strategy, cautious efforts at building united fronts had already 
begun to emerge in the local work of Communists around the world as they 
grew increasingly isolated -- and threatened -- in their worlds of 
ideological purity.
In February 1933 the French, German, and Polish Communist parties had 
issued a joint appeal to Socialist workers to forge an "invincible united 
front." Spanish Communists responded to Socialist calls for unity by 
joining Socialist Party-sponsored Workers' Alliances in September 1934. In 
that same year, the Communist Party of China advanced the Chinese People's 
Basic Program for Fighting Japan that called for an "alliance with all the 
forces opposed to the Japanese imperialists."  The Arab Communists, too, 
arrived in Moscow, with some rudimentary experience in united front work. 
The delegate to the Seventh Comintern Congress Yûsuf Khattâr al-Hilw 
recalled in 1988 that the Syrian-Lebanese party towards the end of 1933 had 
already begun seriously considering introducing changes in their 
"sectarian" program, particularly by reaching out to intellectuals.  These 
efforts bore their first fruits in the spring of 1934 when Communists 
convened a Conference of Arab Revolutionary Intellectuals in Zahlah, 
Lebanon. The meeting marked the beginning of what was to prove one of the 
most successful Communist united front activities, tapping the vast reserve 
of enthusiasm on the part of intellectuals of various backgrounds and 
persuasions for radical social change and opposition to imperialism.
The rise of Hitler to power had focused thinking in Moscow, too, where the 
Soviet Communist Party's official newspaper, Pravda, on 6 March 1933 
published an appeal by the Executive Committee of the Communist 
International to Communist Parties to establish a "united front with the 
Social-Democratic working masses by means of Social-Democratic parties." As 
the need for the new approach grew clearer, both to Stalin and to 
rank-and-file Communists around the world, new faces began to appear in 
meetings of the Comintern leadership. From the opening of the Seventh 
Congress it was rumored that the Dmitriy Manuil'sky, then General Secretary 
of the Comintern's Executive Committee, was to be replaced by the Bulgarian 
hero of the Reichstag fire trials, Georgi Dimitrov -- the first time a 
non-Soviet would occupy that position.
Dimitrov's advocacy of a united front was beyond doubt, least of all by 
Stalin, who was in regular correspondence with the Bulgarian. Rather than 
taking the united front "exclusively as a maneuver to unmask social 
democracy" Dimitrov had written in a letter, "we must change it into an 
efficient factor in the unfolding of mass struggle against the fascist 
Dimitrov, who as expected was elected General Secretary of the ECCI, 
delivered the long main report to the Congress on 2 August 1935. He 
stressed the need for the Communist parties to investigate their local 
conditions and come up with the most effective ways of combating fascism in 
accordance with their specific situations. Irreconcilable opponents of all 
forms of bourgeois nationalism, Communists are not, he insisted, supporters 
of "national nihilism" and should never act as such. "National forms" of 
the proletarian class struggle are in no contradiction with proletarian 
internationalism, they are in fact the guarantors of its success.
Highlighting the importance of national specifics meant that the job of 
Communists in dependent nations was to show the people "in practice" that 
the Communists were struggling for the liberation of their nation from the 
alien yoke. Dimitrov accorded so much attention to the need to understand 
local conditions that when he turned to the situation in the colonial and 
semi-colonial countries, he referred not to an anti-fascist united front, 
but to an anti-imperialist united front. "It is necessary above all," he 
stressed in this connection, "to recognize the variety of conditions" in 
which the anti-imperialist struggle takes place in different countries.
Syria's Khâlid Bakdâsh took the podium on 9 August as spokesman for the 
Arab delegations and responded to Dimitrov's report.

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