Bolshevism and Menshevism in the Third International: Thesis

As is known, the struggle of the Leninists in the years between 1902 and 1917 was in large measure a struggle against opportunism and class collaborationism within the party. It was a struggle both against opportunists and opportunist ideas and also against forms of organization which were suitable only for an opportunist party. The Leninists also struggled resolutely against what has been called the middle ground, those who called for unity between revolutionaries and class collaborationists. As is also accepted by all who can fairly be called Leninists, if the Bolsheviks had not carried this struggle through to completion the bright dawn of the October Revolution would not have been possible. Although the October Revolution undoubtedly occurred in conditions which were conducive to revolution, Lenin made it clear that without an adequate revolutionary party a socialist revolution would not have occurred.

But even among the Bolsheviks, and even among the top leaders of the Bolsheviks, there were many opportunists, class collaborationists, and revisionists. While these people rarely dared to show their rotten politics openly during Lenin’s life, those politics burst forth repeatedly and more and more openly after his death. Chief among these traitors was, of course, Leon Trotsky. The role of Grigory Zinoviev, however, was nearly as destructive. That this is so is clear enough, but the full implications of it have not been widely understood.

In the years immediately following the October Revolution, the now successful communists in the Soviet union, led as ever by Lenin, put a high priority on passing on to comrades in other countries the lessons which had led to their success. One of the chief vehicles by which the Bolsheviks set out to promulgate their lessons was the Third International.

The Third International was to be an international for parties which, like the Bolsheviks, had made a break with opportunists and class collaborationists, with social pacifists, and with forms of organization which were suitable only for opportunism. Lenin wrote a set of rules of admission for the new International which were intended to guarantee that only truly revolutionary parties would be accepted. More than that, the rules were intended to show parties seeking to make a firm break with reformism the way to do so.

In most of the world, the parties which joined the Third International were formed by a process of splitting from the old parties of the decayed Second International. Few, if any, of these parties ever complied with the conditions for admission to the Third International. Put another way, few, if any of them ever followed the path Lenin set forth for them to break away from opportunism and class collaborationism. Few, if any of them, took the step of Bolshevizing themselves, a step which — Lenin taught — the October Revolution could not have occurred without.

This failure of the parties of the Third International to truly Bolshevize themselves is in no small measure explained by the fact that the Third International, from the start, was led by Grigory Zinoviev, himself a traitor and class collaborationist. The fox had been put to guard the henhouse and the results were only what should have been expected.

The Third International parties which were formed by splitting have a wretched record. Few of them ever achieved any notable revolutionary success, let alone the seizure and maintenance of power, without direct intervention by Soviet military might. It is common to say that this is a result of the objective conditions they faced. But Lenin has taught us that without a proper revolutionary party, even the most revolutionary situation may pass without an actual revolution occurring. And even without Lenin’s guidance on this, the mere fact that these parties have failed in such diverse conditions is enough to show that conditions alone cannot explain their difficulties.

In a few countries, however, the parties which joined the Third International were not formed by a process of splitting from the parties of the decayed Second International. They were instead formed in the years after the October Revolution by small groups of people inspired by the Third International. These parties were generally formed, from the start, along Bolshevik lines. Parties of this sort led successful socialist revolutions in China, Vietnam and Korea.

In short, much of the blame for the failure of communist parties in the developed world lies in their failure to construct communist parties on the lines which Lenin laid down. They never carried on within their ranks the struggles with opportunism and opportunist forms of organization which the Bolsheviks carried on. Without that process they could no more carry a socialist revolution than the Bolsheviks could have done.

On the other side of the coin, the opportunism of the communist parties breeds adventurism among disaffected revolutionaries who cannot properly grasp the errors of the parties and make the correct, limited corrections. These groups have been known to give up on organizing the proletariat in favor of other classes or to engage in terrorism. Many of their members inevitably exhaust themselves and retreat to a bourgeois liberal stance.

Now, particularly among communist readers in the first world, this thesis that subjective factors have had at least as much to do with the failure of first world communist parties as have objective factors will, I expect, go down somewhat hard. For this reason I propose to illustrate many points at somewhat greater length and to answer some of the objections which readers will have.

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