The Great Deception


For the following decade, schisms—and schisms within schisms—characterized the Communist movement. During the three years between 1919 and 1922, the major conflicts raged around the various Communist parties and sects, each maintaining that it represented ideological purity and the closest kinship with Moscow and the Comintern. By the beginning of 1923, the Comintern had succeeded, after repeated efforts, in inducing a kind of unity among the major warring parties, but these wars were only succeeded by bitter disputes and battles that raged for six years within the united Communist movement.

A certain amount of personal antagonism and struggle between various sets of leaders is a normal feature of the life of every political party, but it is, with the Communist party, almost unavoidable. The first determinant of the fierce antagonisms which every Communist party harbors within its own ranks is constant failure to achieve its own aims. This was especially true during the twenties and thirties, when no Communist party outside the U.S.S.R. had the means of attaining power.

Leninist Communism believed in the effectiveness of small Communist parties, provided they were truly revolutionary. There seemed to be an assumption, never openly asserted, but always implicit in practical decisions, that the masses would surely follow the party, provided only that it was the right sort of Communist party. The inevitable result was that leaders and leading groups were made responsible for events which they were, in fact, quite unable to avoid.

The double Utopianism which believes that everything can be achieved in the nick of time, and that success or failure depends on the quality of the “vanguard,” naturally claims scapegoats with periodic regularity. But in time it becomes increasingly difficult to find scapegoats. Every defeat and delusion naturally tends to drive one set of leaders outside the party, or at least outside the leadership, until every possible opposition is excluded. What then remains? Since nobody any longer dissents, and nobody therefore can be charged with any responsibility, there remains nothing but to invent scapegoats where there are none.

In this atmosphere it is not of primary importance whether the scapegoat is sentenced on personal or on political grounds. The antagonisms within Communist parties frequently defy any attempt at a political interpretation. In the Communist party there is almost invariably first the struggle, and sometimes a split, and the reasons come afterward. More than once, desperate attempts were made to formulate the content of this or that disagreement which had or was about to split a Communist party; both sides were unable to say what really divided them. The one thing that was possible to say was that party affairs had gone wrong. And as the very suggestion that basic elements of Communist policy itself might be unrealistic constituted the crime of treason, nothing remained but to find an explanation either in the individual wickedness or in minor tactical mistakes of certain leaders.

Therefore, the factional fights within a Communist party have always and invariably been more cruel and ruthless than similar fights in other, less Utopian movements. A man who, working within the party, is personally responsible for the revolution’s failure to come is, in fact, worse than an open enemy; against him every weapon is admissible, even obligatory. He is a “traitor”; for, in the Communist mentality, every failure—not objective failure, but the failure of the reality to conform to the Utopia—supposes a traitor. It is naturally not certain in advance who the traitor is. First there is the betrayal, permanent and overt through the fact of failure itself; later it will be decided who has betrayed. This means that the apparent tactical reasons for a split are never quite so real as they appear from the outside.

The basic law of a Communist party is therefore to proceed through a series of “purges” of “traitors”; this, in the end, helped first Moscow, later Stalin, to establish absolute domination over the Comintern and its sections. But it was only partly due to Moscow or even to Stalin; it was implicit in the “ideology” of the movement. Lenin himself had started with the idea of an organization of professional revolutionaries, with iron discipline, militance, rationality, dedication, absolute centralization, and monolithic unity of policy and action. He stood for a very narrow party, a party to consist only of professional revolutionaries, who would not be accepted into the party simply by their own will. They would be selected by the party from volunteers, and they would be directed in all their activities by the central committee.

Lenin saw this narrow inner party of professional revolutionaries with self-imposed restrictions as a guarantee against “opportunism.” He argued that the ordinary worker, by the experience of his daily life, develops, not a full revolutionary class-consciousness, but only the “consciousness of the trade-unionist.” Only those who have theoretically assimilated Marxism and devoted all their lives to the revolutionary fight are reliable. As Lenin saw it, the poison of opportunism had been allowed to grow unchecked within the Socialist parties of the West. There must therefore be, in the international socialist movement, ideological control from an orthodox center over the whole party, and it must be subjected to rigid discipline. This is the idea of the Communist International in a nutshell.