Revolution or War n°25

(September 2023)

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The Tactics of the Comintern from 1926 to 1940 (Prometeo, #2-4, 6-8 of 1946/1947)

The following text on The Tactics of the Comintern from 1926 to 1940 was published in 1946 and 1947 in numbers 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 of the journal Prometeo of the Partito Comunista Internazionalista, founded in Italy in 1943. Because of its length, we too are obliged to publish it in several editions. To our knowledge, it has never been translated into French. An English version exists on the website of the International Communist Party so-called “of Florence” [1], which publishes Il Partito comunista in Italian and The Communist Party in English. But it was thanks to its translation into Spanish by the comrades of the Barbaria revolutionary group ( that we realized the importance of translating it and making it as widely known as possible. [2]

Signed by Vercesi (Ottorino Perrone), one of the historic leaders of the CP of Italy, then of its fraction outside Italy, “this study, which has only an informative character on the tactics of the Comintern [that is the International Communist] from 1926 to 1940, and which cannot even begin to exhaust such a complex question, must reduce itself to offering the essential elements of this tactic in its fundamental stages, which we list here as: the Anglo-Russian Committee (1926); the Russian Question (1927); the Chinese question (1927); the Tactics of the offensive and social-fascism (1929-1933); the Tactics of anti-fascism and the Popular Front (1934-1938); the Tactics of communist parties during the second world imperialist conflict.”

The Russian Revolution and the international revolutionary wave from 1917 to 1923, the high points marking the turning steps, victories and defeats of this period, are generally well known. Regrettably, this is too often understood in a superficial or Manichean way, according to the political dogmas of the ones and the others. On the other hand, the counter-revolutionary period that followed, which was played out first and foremost within the Communist International itself, the rise of Stalinism and the defeat of the lefts, remains largely unknown. Yet it too is full of lessons. For many revolutionary currents, by 1923, or even 1921, there was nothing left to do but “preserve the principles”, given the international ebb and the isolation of revolutionary Russia.

The experience recounted in this contribution reminds us that this was not the path taken by the Left of Italy. As well as providing a clear – and necessary – exposition of the process and the various key moments in the degeneration of the International, it also demonstrates that there was still “much to be done”. The defense of principles per se – at that time, that of proletarian internationalism in particular, in the face of the theoretical and principle abomination of “socialism in one country” advocated by Stalinism – is not enough if it is not accompanied by the putting forward of political orientations aimed at the proletariat, even when the latter backslides. It was appropriate and possible – albeit very difficult, of course – to put forward alternative orientations to the directives of the International and of the national Communist Parties, enabling the international proletariat to establish minimum lines of defense against the international, including Russian, forces of counter-revolution. If, after 1923, the general ebb was imposing itself, the unleashing of international counter-revolution – of which Stalinism became the central factor – could have been thwarted and limited. There was no fatality despite the successive defeats that followed, that it should take on such a dramatic extent and depth we still suffer today, a century later. The fact that the Left failed to guide the proletariat and “lead” it towards an “orderly” international retreat in no way detracts from the validity and exemplary character of its struggles, both in terms of principle and in political and tactical terms. It is an integral part of the experience that the young generations who will form tomorrow’s party need to re-appropriate for the massive class confrontation that the capitalist crisis and imperialist war are once again imposing today.

The Tactics of the Comintern from 1926 to 1940
(Prometeo, #2-4, 6-8 of 1946/1947)

In March 1926 the Session of the Fourth Enlarged Executive took place in Moscow, and Bordiga finished his speech by stating that the time had come for the other parties of the International to pay back the Russian Party for what it had given to them in the ideological and political field, and expressly requested that the Russian question be put on the agenda of the following debates of the International.

If, from the formal point of view, this proposal had a favorable outcome, since at the Seventh Enlarged Executive as well as at the following plenary session of the Executive of the International, the Russian question was widely debated, substantially things were quite different, as all the parties of the International blocked the theoretical, political and disciplinary solutions previously given by the Russian Party. These resolutions fully the fundamental principles on which the Communist International had been built and were brought into the very core of the Russian revolution those substantial transformations, which lead to the ruthless repression against those who fought the revolution and to the concurrent overthrow of the Russia ruled by the workers’ Soviets, destined now to eventually become one of the essential instruments of the counter-revolution and of the preparation of the second imperialist conflict.

The truth is that, already in 1926, and thanks to the success of that “bolshevization” that Zinoviev had made triumph at the Fifth International Congress of 1924, the leading cadres of all parties had been radically changed. To the currents which in 1920, at the rise of the International, had organically converged towards the same revolutionary path affirmed in a decisive way in the triumph of Russian October, other tendencies had been substituted; and these tendencies, real trend-chasers who had followed the victorious chariot of the Russian revolution without making any contribution to the formation of the communist parties, who were snoozing at them waiting for their hour to shine, could only take up the call of the counter-revolution rising in Russia and give it a hand in the work then just sketched out of breaking up the militants of the International.

If we have recalled the proposals made by the Italian left, as expressed by Bordiga, to the VI Enlarged Executive of the International, we have done so in order to underline that this current was already aware of all the great events which were ripening and of their central point: the radical shift which was being prepared in the politics of Soviet Russia.

It was the last time that the Italian left could make itself heard at the very center of the International and of the Party: one year later, not only it, but every other current of Opposition was conclusively purged from the International and the condition for belonging to it became the recognition of the theory of “socialism in one country”, which represented a clear break with the principle of the programs on which the International itself had been founded.

The subjugation of the Comintern to the interests of the Russian State had now occurred, and the Communist parties of the various nations, instead of moving toward the one real goal of the revolutionary struggle against their capitalism at home, were simply used as pawns in the diplomatic game in which Russia was engaged in with the other powers and led, when these needs required it, to the most unsuccessful compromises with the forces of centrist opportunism and the bourgeoisie.

This study, which has only an informative character on the tactics of the Comintern from 1926 to 1940, and which cannot even begin to exhaust such a complex question, must reduce itself to offering the essential elements of this tactic in its fundamental stages, which we list here as: 1st- Anglo-Russian Committee (1926); 2nd- Russian Question (1927); 3th- Chinese question (1927); 4th- Tactics of the offensive and social-fascism (1929-1933); 5th- Tactics of anti-fascism and the Popular Front (1934-1938); 6th- Tactics of communist parties during the second world imperialist conflict.

1 – The Anglo-Russian Committee

In 1926, an event of great importance disturbed both the analysis of the situation, given by the Fifth Congress of the International (1924), and the policy that had followed in Russia and other countries. The world situation had been characterized by the formula of “stabilization”, which evidently did not exclude the possibility of a resumption of the revolutionary wave, but – because of the changes in tactics that it implied – far from facilitating the orientation of the International towards a resumption of the proletarian struggle, it was to make it a prisoner of tactical formulations and organisms, which cannot be modified or broken overnight.

In fact, the political process is not a patchwork of tactical expedients, in which the party can apply to each situation what mechanically corresponds to it as a doctor would after having diagnosed the disease. The party, a factor in the direction of historical evolution, cannot but be itself shaped by the tactics and politics it applies, and it will be able to intervene in a revolutionary situation only to the extent that it has been able to prepare for it in the phases which preceded it. In the absence of this preparation, it’s evident that the party, having become stuck in an unrelated political process, will be unable to take charge of the revolution and thus prevents itself from directing the proletarian struggle.

Now, when in 1924 there was talk of “stabilization”, it was evidently not limited to a purely statistical and technical examination of economic evolution, but, from the indisputable observation of the decline of the revolutionary wave that followed the defeat of the German revolution in 1923, arose a political discourse in perfect harmony with the tactical decisions of the International.

These decisions were based on the fundamental objective of maintaining communist influence on the masses. And since that, said unfavorable situation, contact with the broad masses was only possible through the development of political relations with the social-democratic organizations which benefited from the retreat of the revolution, the formula of “stabilization” involved the tactic of entryism into the leaderships of the social-democratic parties and trade unions.

When, in 1926, the gigantic strike of the English miners broke out, the International could thus only act consequently in the ways that these already established tactics permitted them. The trade-union leaders were quick to establish permanent agreements with the leaders of the Soviet trade unions, and the Anglo-Russian Committee was forced to exercise whatever role that the circumstances demanded.

The strike became general, and if all the economic analysis made by the Fifth Congress was obliterated, the same can’t be said for the tactics that emanated from it. The International not only found itself unable to reveal to the masses the counter-revolutionary role of the trade union leaders, but it had to maintain solidarity with them throughout the entire events of this important proletarian agitation in one of the world centers of capitalism.

In order to better grasp the tactics of the International in this matter, it’s be necessary to remember that, at the same time, the right-wing tendency of Bukharin-Rykov triumphed in Russia. This tendency had developed within the general framework of a tactic which, after having tied the fate of the Russian State to the fate of the world proletariat together, had proceeded to make the policy of the Communist parties dependent on the needs of that State. And Bukharin would then go on to justify the tactics used in the Anglo-Russian Committee by appealing to the “diplomatic interests of the USSR” (Executive of the International of May 1927)

Regarding this tactic, it is sufficient to recall that after the Anglo-French Conferences of Paris in July 1926 and Berlin in August 1926, at the Berlin Conference of April 1927 the Russian delegates, who had recognized the General Council as «the sole representative and spokesman of the trade union movement of England», pledged themselves «not to diminish the authority» of the trade union leaders and «not to concern themselves with the internal affairs of the English trade unions» after the open betrayal of the general strike by the Social Democratic leadership. And it is not unnecessary to mention that English capitalism, as soon as it can liquidate the general strike, will repay with its usual gratitude the Russian leaders who had been so prodigal to it, and that, directly in London, indirectly in Beijing, Baldwin’s government will go on the offensive against the Soviet diplomatic representations.

The magazine “Lo Stato Operaio”, published by the Italian Communist Party in Paris, in issue 5 of July 1927, in an article on “the Executive and the struggle against the war” (which is to say, the Executive of the International), polemicizing against the Russian opposition, writes the following on the Anglo-Russian Committee:

“This tendency (of the opposition, ed.) comes to light even better in the criticism of the meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee. The Berlin meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee must be considered and judged carefully without haste and without partiality. The time at which the ARC met in Berlin was internationally very serious. The British Conservative Government was preparing the break with Russia. The campaign for isolating Russia from the entire civilized world was in full swing. Was the delegation of the Russian trade unions well advised or ill-advised to make some concessions in order to not break with the delegation of the British trade unions at that time?” This document raises the question of the tactics followed by the delegation of Russian trade unions at the meeting in Berlin, but, as we have seen, Bukharin was very explicit in stating that it was necessary not to break with the Anglo-Russian Committee for the sake of the diplomatic interest of the Russian State, a committee that served as a smokescreen for the trade union leaders to sabotage the general strike, while officially recognizing in it the “only representatives of the English trade union movement”.

The same official documents unequivocally posed an issue: that a mighty proletarian movement would be sacrificed because the defense of Russian State matters required it.

Here, moreover, is a new confirmation of the role played by the ARC within the English movement. The magazine L’Internationale Communiste (issue 17 of 15-8-28) contains in an article by R.Palme Dutt on the plenary assembly of the Chinese Communist Party of February 1928 the following statements: “Here is a decisive turning point in the attitude of the Communist Party towards the masses. Until now the Party had criticized the movement directed by the reformists and acted as an independent agitator (and thus as its own ideological leader). From now on the task of the Communist Party is to fight the reformist leaders in order to put itself at the head of the masses.”

And in an author’s note he adds: “It is sometimes said that we have passed from the slogan ’fight for leadership’ to that of ’change of direction’. This is not accurate. As a matter of fact, the slogan “change of direction” had already been implemented before the new tactic, even when this new tactic was being fought, and it only means one thing: the “right” of the Labor Party must be replaced at the head of the movement by the “left” of the same party. At present the party is fighting for its own interests, and not to correct the mistakes of the Labor Party. It is necessary to fight to regroup the masses behind the Communist Party and the elements associated with it (minorities, etc.). It is in this sense that the slogan “change of direction” is valid for the current period.”

The Party’s role had thus been in 1926 to act as the “ideological leader” of the movement directed by the reformists and to “correct the mistakes of the Labor Party”. As for the “new tactic”, which will be just as deleterious to the proletarian movement as the opposite tactic of the Anglo-Russian Committee, we will discuss it again in the chapter devoted to the “offensive” and “socialism”.

2 – The Russian Question

In 1926-27 Russia went through a serious economic crisis. Since 1923-24, two opposing positions had been defended within the Russian Party: that of the Bukharin-Rykov Right who, breaking with the prejudicial conditions laid down by Lenin during the NEP (see The Tax in Kind [3]), advocated support for the expansion of the capitalist strata, especially in the countryside; the other of the trotskist Left who, on the basis of Lenin’s formulations, tended towards the establishment of an economic plan that focused on strengthening the State and the socialist sector of the economy to the detriment of the private and capitalist sector.

The Russian party moved on to the fight against Trotski; but the ruling bloc going from Bukharin-Rykov to Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev, while proceeding united in the fight against a so-called “trotskism”, did not reach a unity of views on what the solutions to the serious economic problems which the establishment of the NEP had given rise to actually were. The Right launched the slogan “peasants, get rich” which openly threatened the monopoly of foreign trade, but neither arrived at an economic and political plan clearly oriented towards the annihilation of the prejudicial conditions posed by Lenin in the NEP, nor differed clearly from the center then personified by Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev (to limit itself to the most important Russian leaders). As always, the Right had no need to define clear positions and relies above all on the direct impulse of events, which, in circumstances unfavorable to the revolutionary movement, can only be favorable to it. The essential thing for it is the struggle against the proletarian tendency, and for this purpose it uses the Center, which can carry out this counter-revolutionary task much better than the Right.

The years 1926 and 1927 saw a situation in which the different currents within the Russian Party did not confront each other with a view to particular solutions to be adopted in the face of the serious economic problems with which Russia was struggling with, with the debates being mostly concerned with general and theoretical questions. The practical solutions came later, at the XVI Conference of the Russian Party (1929) in which the first five-year plan will be decided. In 1926-27 the struggle is confined to the essential task of the hour: to disperse any proletarian reaction within the Russian Party. According to the report of the plenary meeting of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the Russian Party (see the Lo Stato Operaio of September 1927) the opposition is divided into three groups: 1st an extreme left group headed by comrades Sapronov and Smirnov; 2nd the group that accepts Trotski’s hegemony and to which belong, among the best known, Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc; 3rd a group that strives to take an intermediate position between the opposition currents and the Central Committee (Kasparova, Bielincaia, etc.)

With regard to the first group the official document characterizes in the following points its analysis of the situation: a) the struggle within the party has a character of class struggle, between the working-class part of the party and an army of bureaucrats; b) this struggle cannot be limited to the interior of the party, but must involve the great masses without whose support the opposition cannot win; c) it is possible that the opposition will be defeated; it must therefore constitute itself as an active agent, which will defend the cause of the proletarian revolution in the future; d) the Trotski-Zinoviev bloc does not understand this vital need and tends to compromise with the Stalin group, has no clear tactical line; having erred in signing the declaration of October 16, 1926 of obedience to the Party, it must trample on its own principles; the hesitations of Trotski and Zinoviev must be denounced and unmasked like those of the Stalin group; e) In recent years the capitalist elements of production have developed more rapidly than the socialist elements; given the technical backwardness of the country and the low level of labor productivity, it is not possible to pass to a true socialist organization of production without the help of the technically advanced countries or without the intervention of the world revolution; f) The main error of the Party’s economic policy consists in the reduction of prices, which benefits not the working class, but all consumers, and therefore also the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie; g) the liquidation of party democracy and workers’ democracy, in 1923, is the prelude to the establishment of a democracy of wealthy peasants; h) in order to change this state of affairs, it is necessary to pass to the organization of large State enterprises with perfected production techniques for the transformation of the products of agriculture; i) the GPU, instead of repressing the counter-revolution, is fighting against the justified discontent of the workers; the Red Army threatens to transform itself into an instrument of Bonapartist adventures; the CC is a “Stalinist” fraction which, by initiating the liquidation of the party will lead to the end of the dictatorship of the proletariat; it is necessary to “restore” the Soviet system.

This current is deemed by the CC as “a group of enemies of the party and the proletarian revolution”.

The same CC states that it “is solidly constituted as an illegal fraction, not only in the sense of the Party, but in the very sense of the Trotski-Zinoviev fraction. It turns out that one of the groups of this fraction, the Omsk group, had set as its program the preparation of a general strike throughout Siberia and the halting of the activity of the large electric companies in the region.”

As for the Trotski-Zinoviev group, the same document of the CC of the Russian Party writes:

“The Trotski-Zinoviev group is responsible for the most violent attacks on the CC and its political line, and for the most brazen fraction activity developed during 1927, openly breaking the solemn commitments made in the declaration of October 16, 1926. In recent times this group has concentrated its attacks against the party line in international politics (China, England) by speculating on the difficulties that have arisen in this field. It has responded to the preparation for war against the USSR with statements which represent a sabotage of the action which the Party is carrying out for the mobilization of the masses against the war and for resistance. A typical assertion is the characterization of the CC of the Party as a Thermidorian reaction, that the course of Party policy is “national-conservative”, that the Party line is one of “old peasants”, that the greatest danger threatening Russia is not the war but the internal Party regime, etc. These statements were accompanied by acts of violation of discipline and open fractionism: publishing of fraction documents, organization of fraction, circles, conferences, etc., Zinoviev’s speech against the CC at a non-party assembly, Trotski’s attitude at the Executive meeting, accusation of “Thermidorism” brought by Trotski against the Party at a meeting of the controlling CC, public demonstration against the Party at Smilga’s departure from a Moscow station. Finally, a petition campaign was organized against the CC by circulating a document signed by the 83 leading opposition figures. In addition, the Trotski-Zinoviev group maintained a relationship with the extreme left group excluded from the German Party (Maslov-Fischer).

All this shows that the Trotski-Zinoviev group has not only violated all the commitments it made in the declaration of October 16, 1926, but: 1) has placed itself on a path which leads to being against the unconditional defense of the USSR in the struggle against imperialism; the accusations of Thermidorism hurled against the CC have the logical consequence of proclaiming the necessity of the defense of the USSR only after this CC has been overthrown; 2) it has placed itself on the path leading to the splitting of the Comintern; 3) it has placed itself on the path leading to the splitting of the Russian Party and the organization of a new party in Russia.

As for the intermediate group, the CC of the Russian Party considers it “a group of vague opposition, probably out of the bafflement that has arisen in some less self-confident elements in the face of the serious difficulties of the moment.”

This entire quotation allows us to understand the gravity of the situation existing in Russia at this time. Although there are obvious exaggerations in the way the points of view of the extreme left fraction and the Trotski-Zinoviev fraction are presented, it’s obvious that not even what the hostile CC wrote allows one to conclude that the two opposing groups could be compared to the Mensheviks and the counterrevolutionaries.

As for the positions defended by the right, they undoubtedly represented the vehicle for a restoration of the bourgeois class in Russia according to the classical type of the reconstitution of an economy based on private property and enterprises. But history was to rule out this eventuality. In the phase of monopoly imperialism and State totalitarianism, the reversal of Russian politics would take place along the other path of the five-year plans, which we will discuss later, and State capitalism.

But, as we were saying, before reaching this decisive step, it was necessary to definitively win the battle against the various opposition groups, a battle which was actually directed against the Party itself and against the International, since it concerned the fundamental point of Marxist doctrine: the international and internationalist notion of communism.

The aforementioned resolution of the CC represented a “half-measure” because the issues were not definitively resolved. It was in December 1927, at the 15th Congress of the Russian Party, after the failure of the show of force attempted by the opposition with the demonstration in Leningrad, that the problems would be fully addressed.

The great battle of the XV Congress took place around the new theory of “socialism in one country” and the incompatibility of being a member of the Party and the International and the not accepting this thesis.

On this fundamental point the Seventh Enlarged Executive (November-December 1926) had expressed itself in these terms: “The Party starts from the point of view that our revolution is a socialist revolution, that the October Revolution represents not only the signal for a leap forward and the starting point of the socialist revolution in the West, but: 1) it represents a basis for the future development of the world revolution; 2) it opens up the period of transition from capitalism to socialism in the Soviet Union (the dictatorship of the proletariat), in which the proletariat has the possibility of successfully edifying, by means of a just policy toward the peasant class, a complete socialist society. This construction will be realized, however, only if the strength of the international workers’ movement on the one hand, and the strength of the proletariat of the Soviet Union on the other hand, are so great as to protect the Soviet State from military intervention.”

Note how the realization of the “complete socialist society” no longer depends, as in Lenin’s time, on the triumph of the revolution in other countries, but on the ability of the international workers’ movement to “protect the Soviet State from military intervention”. Events have proven that it will be instead the two most powerful imperialist States, Great Britain and the United States, that will “protect” Soviet Russia.

Both at the 7th Enlarged Executive and at the other numerous meetings of the Russian Party and the Executive of the International, the Russian and international proletariat lost the battle. The consecration of this defeat came at the 15th Congress of the Russian Party (December 1927) when the incompatibility between membership in the Party and the denial of the “possibility of the construction of socialism in one country” was proclaimed.

But this defeat was to have decisive consequences both within Russia and in the international communist movement. Class struggle does not allow half-ways, especially in climatic moments, such as those of our epoch. The proclamation of the theory of socialism in one country, since it could not in practice be resolved by the extraction of Russia from a world in which – after the defeat of the Chinese revolution – capitalism was everywhere going on the counter-offensive and, by the very fact of breaking the necessary link between the struggle of the working class of each country against its capitalism and the struggle for socialism within Russia, was denying the proletarian class factor, had inevitably to admit another one, on which Russia was increasingly relying: world capitalism. Evidently, this transition of the Russian State was only possible under two conditions: 1) that the communist parties cease to pose a threat to capitalism; 2) that within Russia the principle of the capitalist economy – the exploitation of the workers – be re-instituted.

In this chapter we shall deal with the second point; in subsequent chapters with the first.

* * *

On the basis of a logic which we would like to call “chronological”, the opinion has been formed that the line of degeneration of the Russian State starts from the adoption of the NEP in March 1921 and inevitably arrives at the new course introduced after 1927.

This opinion is superficial and does not correspond to an analysis of events conducted according to Marxist principles.

It must be made clear that this economic maneuver was necessarily required by the events, by the insurmountable difficulties in which the proletarian dictatorship found itself, and it was possible precisely because it was carried out in a regime of proletarian dictatorship. This does not mean, of course, that the bourgeois economic forces didn’t increase and that the political balance of power didn’t tend to change: however, this change in the balance of power that favored bourgeois forces, brought about by NEP, could become dangerous and lethal for the proletarian dictatorship in Russia only if the international balance of power shifted, as it did, towards the prevalence of bourgeois reaction and the ebbing of the revolutionary wave. Otherwise the momentary recovery of the bourgeois forces would have been overwhelmed by the proletarian dictatorship which had maintained its political positions.

Lenin’s position, since 1917, has been based on these main considerations: 1) an absolute political intransigence which will lead the Bolshevik Party to take positions of the most open struggle against all bourgeois political formations, including those of the extreme social-democratic left. It is well known that, in January 1918, Lenin, after having analyzed the results of the elections for the Constituent Assembly not according to the vulgar criteria of parliamentary democracy but rather according to its opposite, to class criteria, having thus ascertained that the Bolsheviks were an arithmetical and global minority in the country, but were a majority in the industrial centers, proceeded to violently disperse the Assembly elected on the basis of democratic principles. 2) A shrewd economic policy which delimited the possibilities of the proletariat – and consequently of the class Party – in connection with the concrete possibilities offered by the modest degree of development of the forces and technique of production. Lenin’s program implied the simple “control of production”, which meant the permanence of the capitalists at the head of industries.

This apparent contradiction between an economic policy of concessions and an extremely intransigent general policy is inexplicable if one does not place oneself – as Lenin constantly did – on the international plane and therefore does not consider the Russian revolution in connection with the development of the world revolution. If, from the Russian national point of view, concessions in the economic field are unavoidable because of the country’s backward industrial development, from the political point of view instead – since the experiment of the proletarian dictatorship is a function of international events – the most intransigent policy becomes not only possible but necessary, since it is ultimately a single episode in the world struggle of the proletariat.

Lenin acted according to Marxist principles both in 1917, when he limited himself to the “control of industries”, and during the phase of war communism between 1918 and 1920, and when he announced in March 1921 the policy of NEP. The whole of his policy stems from an international approach to the Russian question, and the NEP itself will be considered inevitable because of the delay in the revolutionary rise of the world proletariat, while on the other hand the fundamental conditions will be specified under which the concessions contained in the policy of NEP will have to be strictly maintained.

It is well known that Lenin, by substituting the tax in kind (the peasant became free to dispose of the remaining product after the transfer of the share devolved to the State) for the system of requisitions (which deprived the peasant of any possibility of disposing of his product) and by authorizing the re-establishment of the market and of small industry, divided the Russian economy into two sectors: socialist and private. The first sector – the State sector – had to engage in a speedy race to reach the second one in order to defeat it in the economic field thanks to the superiority of the yield of work and the increase in production.

However, the qualification of socialist given to the State sector did not mean that the State form was sufficient to make the nature of this sector socialist. On a thousand occasions, Lenin insisted that the chances of success of the State sector resulted in no way from the fact that, instead of the private sector, it was the State that ran industry, but from the fact that this was a proletarian State closely linked to the course of world revolution.

Lenin established the NEP in March of 1921. It was in 1923-24 that the first results of NEP became apparent, and at the same time the struggle within the Russian Party showed that the predictions based on a development of the socialist sector to the detriment of the private sector were not confirmed by events. While Trotski will advocate provisions destined to the development of the socialist sector and to the struggle against the resurgent bourgeoisie, especially in the countryside, Bukharin’s right wing will see no other solution to the economic problems than a greater freedom in favor of the capitalist elements of the Soviet economy.

In 1926-27 the struggle takes, within the Party and the International, the proportions we have already mentioned, which ends in a total defeat for the leftist elements, who will only be able to remain in the Party if they put aside the international and internationalist principle of the struggle for socialism.

Historical evolution does not obey formalistic criteria to such an extent that a restoration of the economic principles of capitalism could only be considered possible in Russia through the re-establishment of the classical form of individual property. Russia will find itself in 1927 and later more and more in a world situation characterized, as in the last century, not by the reflection of liberal economic principles in the private appropriation of the means of production and surplus value, but in another situation which knows State totalitarianism and the subjugation to it of all forms of private initiative.

After the defeat of the Left within the Russian Party, we do not witness – because of the indicated characteristics of the general historical evolution – a triumph of the Right, due to the fact that the solution of economic problems can only be obtained through a struggle against the capitalist stratifications which arose during the NEP.

But between the policy of the NEP and that which was to triumph later, of the Five-Year Plans, is there or is there not a solution of continuity? In order to answer this question, one must first consider that, as Charles Bettelheim demonstrates in his book Soviet Planning, the NEP had not achieved its objectives either in the political field, since it had led to a hypertrophy of the bureaucracy, or in the economic field, since instead of having ensured the victory of the socialist sector, it had led to a strengthening of the private sector, or finally in the more general economic field, since 1926-27 had seen a serious economic crisis in Russia.

In the presence of what Bettelheim qualifies as “the failure of NEP” the question arises over whether 1927 was to unavoidably mark the hour of reckoning and whether, because of the very unfavorable international circumstances, no further possibility existed of keeping the Russian State in the hands of the proletariat. But we must not concern ourselves with this problem, our task being mainly informative about the course of events.

The indisputable fact is that the re-establishment of the economic principle of capitalist exploitation is enshrined in the Five-Year Plans, the first of which will be decided at the 16th Russian Party Conference in April 1929 and approved by the 5th Congress of Soviets in May 1929; the basic point of these Plans is first the attainment and then the continuous surpassing of production indices taking as reference points both the period prior to 1914 and the results obtained in other countries. In a word, what will be the substance of the new Soviet reconstruction? The official documents make no mystery of it: it is about reconstructing an economy of the same type as the capitalist one, and it will be qualified as “socialist” the higher the heights reached by production will be.

The economic plan conceived by Lenin and approved at the IX Congress of the Russian Communist Party in April 1920 set the whole problem on the increase of consumer industry: this meant that the essential purpose of the Soviet economy was the improvement of the living conditions of the working masses. On the other hand, the theory of the Five-Year Plans aims at the highest development of heavy industry at the expense of consumer industry. The outcome of the Five-Year Plans in the war economy and in the war was therefore just as inevitable as the corresponding arrangement of the economy in the rest of the capitalist world.

Corresponding to the substantial change that will occur in the aims of production, which will be solely those of a constant accumulation of capital in heavy industry, another change will be made in the conception of “socialist industry” whose distinctive criterion will be established in the non-private and State form: the master State will become a God to whom will be immolated not only the sacrifices of the millions of Russian workers who will have to revitalize with zeal in the quantity and quality of production in order not to incur the accusation and condemnation of being “trotskists”, but also the corpses of the creators of the Russian revolution.

The economic principle of increasing exploitation of the workers proper to capitalism, will be re-instituted in Russia in parallel with the general laws of historical evolution that lead to an increasing and totalitarian intervention of the State. Even the Right leader Bukharin and his comrade Rykov will be executed. What triumphs in Russia is what will then triumph in all countries: State totalitarianism; and the consequence can only be the same in Russia: the preparation and the gigantic participation in the Second World War.

The Italian left, foreseeing from the very beginning the substance of the political evolution in Russia, did not allow itself – as Trotski did – to be captivated by the State form of property in Russia, and as early as 1933 it raised the necessity of assimilating Soviet Russia to the capitalist world, foreshadowing the same tactics in the course of the imperialist conflict, where it would inevitably be led by the theory of “socialism in one country” and the theory of the Five-Year Plans.

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[2. We take back the English version published by ICP-The Communist Party.