End of the Comintern

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Subject essay: James von Geldern

On May 22, 1943, the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (Comintern) issued a resolution dissolving the organization. Few could have been surprised. Founded in 1919 as the beacon of international proletarian revolution, the Comintern initially played an important role in rallying elements of the European left that had broken with social democracy over its betrayal of proletarian internationalism during the First World War, and in sustaining support for the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. However, the Comintern’s imposition of strict rules governing the behavior of constituent Communist parties limited their maneuverability within their respective countries, and its purging of supporters of Trotsky and Bukharin further narrowed their appeal.

The decision of the Seventh Comintern Congress in July 1935 to abandon the organization’s previously intransigent anti-capitalist line in favor of a Popular Front with reformist socialist and bourgeois parties against fascism, and the Comintern’s efforts on behalf of the embattled Spanish Republic during that country’s civil war (1936-39) resonated with broad circles of the European left. For them, the anti-fascist struggles of the second half of the 1930s constituted a kind of golden age. However, for those within the Executive Committee who had opposed the new line, the price was heavy: almost to a man, they perished in the Great Purges of 1937-38. The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939 stunned millions of Communists and Soviet sympathizers around the world, further weakening the Comintern’s appeal. The British and French Communist parties, which until the announcement of the pact had been in the forefront of their countries’ anti-fascist coalitions, were compelled by Moscow to perform a volte face by declaring the war against Nazi Germany to be an “imperialist” venture on the part of their respective capitalist classes.

The Soviet government responded to the Nazi invasion of June 1941 by casting the titanic struggle in the highly nationalist terms of a Great Patriotic War. Invoking heroic figures from the hoary Russian past, it also took steps to reassure the western allies that it too was part of what Stalin referred to as “the common onslaught of all freedom-loving nations against the common enemy.” The dissolution of the already moribund Comintern fit into this scheme.

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