Zinoviev and Cannon
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 22 16:45:43 MST 2002
>need to throw in Lenin, on equal par with Zinioviev, if we are to cement our
>break with the Comintern's early years. I think this would be fair, don't
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
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
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
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
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.
Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org
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