Remolding Militancy The Foundation of Communist Parties
THE DIVISIONS OF INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM
Once the Bolsheviks took
1919 to reestablish the Second International. In parallel, the Bolsheviks launched
While some of these parties gravitated toward Moscow, Second Inter- national losses weren’t immediate gains for the Third. Those came later, after the Second Comintern Congress in July1920 issued its Twenty-One Conditions for joining, which then provided criteria for defining a Com- munist party(CP).4 With this instrument, Grigorii Zinoviev and other Bol- shevik emissaries toured sympathetic Socialist parties in winter 1920–21, cajoling the pro-Bolshevik Left into finallybreaking with their opponents, either byexpelling the latter where theywere strong enough or bythem- selves forming a new party. This occurred first at the Halle Congress of the USPD in October 1920, which voted 237 against 156 to accept the Twenty- One Conditions: the right kept 340,000 members and most of the appa- ratus, but the left claimed 428,000 members, taking 370,000 of them into the united KPD in December.5 The SFIO came next, voting at its December Congress in Tours to join the Third International and create the French Communist Party(PCF).6 In Livorno in January1921, roughlyhalf the PSI’s membership left to form the Italian Communist Party, and in May the same occurred in Czechoslovakia.7 These new parties joined the smaller CPs established around Europe after 1918 (see table 11.1).
This new round of splitting gave large groupings no international home, so yet a third international body took shape, emerging from two confer-
TABLE 11.1 The Foundation of Communist Parties
CountryName of PartyYear Membership
HungaryHungarian Communist Party(KMP) 1918
Luxemburg Communist Partyof Luxemburg (CPL) 1921 500
NorwayNorwegian Communist Party(NKP) 1923 16,000
ences in Bern and Vienna in December 1920 and February1921 as the
“Two-and-a-Half International,” rallied the left-socialist rumps who re- jected the Twenty-One Conditions, including the USPD, the Czech Social Democrats, the SFIO, and the full arrayof Balkan Social Democratic groups. Theywere joined bythe Swiss Social Democrats, who first affiliated and then left the Third International in summer 1919; anti-Bolshevik Rus- sians among the Mensheviks and Left SRs; and the British ILP. The moral lead came from the Austrian Socialists, who during 1919–20 stayed con- sistentlyindependent between the camps.8
The Vienna Union was
a split. But for Friedrich Adler, its secretaryand moving spirit, it was a bridge to socialist
1922, to which each International—the Second, Third, and Two-and-a- Half—sent
movement were present—met at all, at least creating a
“Committee of Nine” for future cooperation. But bythe Committee’s first meeting the following month
exchange.9 Byfall 1922,
In May1923, theymerged as
This universalized the
Second and Third internationals,
LAUNCHING THE COMMUNIST INTERNATIONAL
Once Bolshevism was
was formed. Scope was initiallylimited bywartime communications. In earlyFebruary1918, a
The call mentioned 39 groups in 31 separate countries, all European apart from the United States, Australia, and Japan; others from the colonial world were added later. The Congress drew 52 delegates from 35 organi- zations in 22 countries. After national reports and credentialing, proceed- ings revolved around analysis of the world capitalist order, recorded in four detailed statements: “The Platform of the Communist International”; Lenin’s “Theses and Report on Bourgeois Democracyand the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”; the “Attitude toward the Socialist Currents and the Bern Conference”; and the “Manifesto of the Communist International to the Workers of the World.” Communism was contrasted with the moribund system of “bourgeois democracy,” which not only the “social patriots” but also “the amorphous, unstable Socialist center” were now defending. To parliaments and classical liberal freedoms were counterposed the soviets or workers’ councils as “the conditions and forms of the new and higher workers’ democracy.” The dictatorship of the proletariat was the instru- ment of the workers’ class emancipation, just as “insurrections, civil wars, and the forcible suppression of kings, feudal lords, slaveowners, and their attempts at restoration” were the unavoidable medium of the bourgeoisie’s rise before. Forming an international vanguard was the utmost priority.12
There was no dissent. On the third dayof the Congress, 4 March 1919, the motion to found the Communist International, submitted byAustrian, Hungarian, Swedish, and Balkan delegations, was passed unanimouslywith one abstention. While the Congress was a small and vaguelyrepresentative gathering, in the Left’s longer historyit was a momentous occasion, whose significance needs careful explication.
The Bolsheviks’ own phenomenal success, the central European up- heaval of fall 1918, and radicalization in Italyand elsewhere, fueled the sense of an impending world-historical break. Even in the face of immediate disaster—like the German repression and the murders of Luxemburg and Liebknecht preceding the Congress—the new Communists saw contradic- tions moving inexorablyin their own favor. The drama of the occasion, and the sense of revolutionaryanticipation, of being on the cusp of a new era, was palpable. Arriving in the midst of the second day, the Austrian delegate Karl Steinhardt captured the mood: dirtyand disheveled, striding straight up to the podium to declare his credentials, ripping them from his tattered greatcoat byknife, and immediatelyreceiving the floor. After a stirring and grosslyinflated account of Austrian Communist strength, he ended on a heroic note:
European revolutionaryadvance was thought to be imminent. The new International
Yet, revolutionaryenthusiasm aside, what exactlythe Congress repre- sented was unclear. Despite the search for appropriate affiliates and the Credentials Commission’s
This problem of representation—of the
tual, rather than rhetorical, relationship to an international movement— becomes clearer
Next came small left-wing sects with little
haps calling themselves Communist parties, but not particularly“Com- munist”
den, and the United States, plus the Balkan RevolutionarySocial Democratic
There was thus a
big gap between the International’s revolutionary e´lan—its
movement’s continuing allegiances. The spread of radicalism was patent enough, but how to capture it for Communist parties, and indeed what defined “Communism”
the Russian Revolution brought anticolonialism freshlyinto the heart of the Left. The Bolsheviks’ earlyinternational policyincluded an audacious bid to revolutionize the non-Western world, turning its sights deliberately
“toward the Orient, Asia, Africa, the colonies, where this movement [for national self-determination] is not a thing of the past but of the present and the future.”15 Here, the Congress launched a vital longer-term tradi- tion, to which the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East in September
1920 became the bridge.
The Congress also marked the arrival of a younger activist generation. One categoryof delegates, from Russia itself and eastern Europe, had be- come social democrats in their teens and twenties, either in the founding upsurge of eastern socialist parties in the 1890s or during the radicalizing experience of 1905. But most of the rest were formed bythe First World War, including the western Europeans, Transcaucasians, and broader Asian contingent. Here the contrast with the prewar Second International Con- gresses—and with the Bern Congress of February1919—was sharp: “In- stead of all the well-known ‘esteemed’ fathers of international Social De- mocracy; instead of the theoreticians, hoary with age; instead of the leaders of the workers’ movement of the previous half-century; here, with a few exceptions, were gathered new people, whose names were still little known.”16
But neither these youthful energies nor the general revolutionary
WHAT KIND OF COMMUNISM?
Given the uncertainties of the Third International’s relation to the Left countrybycountry, the big unanswered question concerned the kind of Communist parties to promote. Lenin’s “Theses . . . on Bourgeois Democ- racyand the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” defined strict criteria for af- filiation with the Comintern, incorporated into the “Platform” of 6 March. Here, Communist politics meant soviet as against parliamentarystate forms. Yet this prescription worked onlywhile insurrections were on the agenda. Once theyreceded, the Left again faced participating in the existing order—parliaments, elections, and the general institutional world of “bour-
serious inroads into
isting movement, theyseldom escaped sectarian marginality.
This gave the Comintern a dilemma. Once the affiliated groups ex- panded in 1919–20, particularlywith the hemorrhage of support from the Bern International and the possible regroupment of the socialist center, the ambivalence of the Comintern’s potential supporters over soviet versus par- liamentarydemocracycouldn’t be ignored. By1920 and the buildup to the Second Congress, the affiliated parties embraced the gamut of left-wing politics, from parliamentarysocialism of the prewar kind, through council communism, to syndicalism and an extreme ultraleftism that refused all truck with parliaments. Resolving this question became the Third Inter- national’s keydilemma as it entered its second year.
The Twenty-One Conditions of July 1920 were only a partial solution. These were certainlyeffective in drawing the lines more sharplyagainst reformists, digging a deep ditch between Communist parties and the older social democratic ones still shaping the Left in Scandinavia, the Low Coun- tries, and Britain. But theybrutallyexcluded a much wider range of so- cialist opinion and support, that expressed through the short-lived Two- and-a-Half or Vienna International, which included not onlyMensheviks and other defeated factions, or smaller Left parties like the British ILP, but also the prestigious Austrian Socialists and larger left-socialist groupings from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and France unhappy with the discipline and loyalty the Third International now required. Over the longer term, the new CPs could onlyprosper bywinning the confidence of these group- ings and their support. For most of the 1920s and 1930s, however, Com- munists onlyaccentuated their differences, driving left-wing socialists back into the arms of the social democratic right.
Equallyserious, the most impressive revolutionaryinsurgencies during
1919–21 reflected violent, volatile, and localized forms of working-class radicalism,
munist and left-socialist allegiances as within them: in late 1920, for in- stance, as the 78,000 KPD members awaited the influx of former USPDers, the council-communist KAPD and its associated General Workers’ Union mayhave counted another one hundred thousand supporters, not to speak of the kaleidoscopicallyshifting patterns of unaffiliated neosyndicalist mil- itancy.18 These working-class mobilizations simultaneouslysustained and frustrated Communist revolutionaries, producing the most reckless chal- lenges to authoritybut without lasting supralocal effect. This was the infant Communist parties’ thorniest dilemma: how successfullytheyshaped such militancywould decisivelyinfluence the kind of Communist parties they would become.
for women in the revolutionaryyears, the ambiguities of change were acute. The war’s end brought the first breakthrough of female enfranchisement.
voted in onlyFinland (1906) and
(1913), but by1918 theyshared in
(1918), Luxemburg (1919), and the Nether- lands (1920).
In contrast, women’s economic depen- dencywas scarcelyimproved. Wartime entry into protected male occupations was crudely reversed. Women stayed in waged jobs, be- cause working-class households still needed their incomes, but the priorityof demobilized male “breadwinners” was quicklyrestored. Right and Left shared a desire to restabilize gender relations upset bythe war. In short, while winning constitutional gains, women became the objects of social policies implying that little reallyhad changed.
CITIZENS, MOTHERS, AND CONSUMERS
In a nutshell: women were enrolled into citi- zenship and men’s and women’s political
rights finallygrew the
global competitiveness, and moral order. Two intersecting anxieties were involved.
Population policybecame an obsession of interwar public life. The sur- plus of women and shortage of men, the declining birth rate, the war’s visible human wreckage, and fears of social degeneration all combined with women’s new political rights and the enhanced welfare state to bring women to the political fore. Pronatalist policies for raising the birth rate and the qualityof society’s human resources and maternalist policies for strengthening women’s familyroles converged. The resulting policyre- gimes—and the debates and battles surrounding them—varied countryby countryin complex ways but described a space of political intervention common to interwar Europe. Questions of reproduction (birth control, abortion, sterilization), child welfare, medical advice, household efficiency, and social services composed the shared battleground of politics. Theyin- cited diverse projects of social policing and improvement, with openings not onlyfor the efficiency-maximizing ambitions of bureaucracies and ex- perts but also for the altruism of reformers, from professionals and social activists to labor movements and women’s organizations, as well as ordi- narywomen themselves. Consequently, it mattered enormouslywhat par- ticular balance of political forces pertained.2
The Right sought to confine women at home, invoking “traditional” familyvalues or nationalist demands for “purifying” the population pool, for which Nazism’s racialized policies in 1933–45 became a terrible ex- treme. But this wasn’t the prerogative of the Right alone. Whether in the USSR, the French Third Republic’s population policies, Fabian social pol- icies in Britain, or sex reform in Weimar Germany, the Left were active too. Biological politics—removing issues from contention by“naturalizing” them, referring them to medical and scientific expertise rather than demo- cratic debate—were common ground of discussion for welfare issues, child- raising, public health, sexuality, and sex differences between the wars.3
Other public discussions also revolved round this central theme, from the memorializing of the First World War to the linking of patriotism with masculine ideals of virilityand domesticized images of female patience and
virtue.4 The “feminizing” of social policy, education, and family life into women’s distinctive domain reflected this syndrome too.5
Left and Right occupied a single frame. Familyreform implied women’s advancement, whether via positive recognition as wives and mothers or recruitment into voluntaryagencies and “caring” professions for the same familial needs. In the meantime, analyses of fascism and post-1968 feminist critiques have explored the disempowering consequences of such biologi- callybased familialism confining women to the home. Seeing women’s emancipation in a “separate sphere” of familial, domestic or feminine vir- tues has become more problematic in light of these critiques, because sep- aration undermined civic and legal equalityas often as securing it. But in
1918, these issues were blurred. Even the strongest radicals, like the Bol- shevik Aleksandra Kollontai, retained some notion of a “natural division of labor” affecting women’s innate roles as mothers.6
Initially, validating motherhood and domesticity could be empowering. Social feminism—protection for motherhood, family-oriented social poli- cies, education for girls, protective labor legislation, a politics of women’s special nature—had focused feminists’ vision of women’s emancipation be- fore 1914 as much as legal equalityand the vote.7 “Advanced” thinking among emancipated women and men enlisted eugenicist ideas for regulating human procreation, blurring the lines between feminist control over repro- duction and “national efficiency” arguments for survival of the race. Unless reforms made motherhood more attractive, it was commonlyargued, only
“inferior” mothers would have children.
There was one last complication. If tensions endured between civil equalityand constructions of sexual difference, theyalso defined the new consumerism—between social policies confining women to the familyand consumer promises tempting them out. Housewives became household managers, joining the public sphere as purchasing agents for husbands and children. Even more destabilizing, a new culture of cheap entertainment— in dream palaces and dance halls, and the lure of lipstick, smoking, and fashion—captured attention. Younger women found an expressive inde- pendence, a stylistic escape from domestic and public oppressiveness of male control, in a commercially driven culture of possibility, “playing on fantasyand desire.”8 Advertising and the cinema transported this reality from the sociallyrestricted culture of the metropolis to the general topog- raphyof women’s imaginations.9
How the Left
women embodied this challenge. On the one hand theywere egregiously neglected bythe Left; on the other consumerism offered an escape from domesticity. Feminist campaigners dimissed
sticks, their foolish strivings.”10 Yet consumerism, like the politics of the familyand welfare, described a keysite of politics. These were the new realities the war and the contemporarytransformations of capitalism en- gendered. Theyelicited a new right-wing political repertoire, to which the Left had a remarkablyslow response.
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