Foreign policy flows from domestic policy, serving the same interests. The bureaucracy’s violent break with the kulaks and the right-wing of the party was accompanied by an equally violent swing to ultra-leftism in the international arena.

Recoiling from the opportunist line that had led to disaster in Britain and China, Stalin moved to salvage the regime’s “revolutionary” credentials by imposing an exact opposite course at the sixth Comintern congress in August 1928 (the first in four years).

Capitalism, Stalin proclaimed, had passed through two “periods” since 1918 – first, a revolutionary period until 1923; then, a “gradual and partial stabilisation”. Now a “third period” of intensive crisis was beginning, that would spell the “final collapse” of capitalism, and place the struggle for power on the order of the day.

Marxism explains that there is no such thing as a “final crisis” of capitalism. The capitalist class will always resolve their problems at the expense of the working class until their rule is overthrown.

Stalin’s aim, however, was not to develop a Marxist position but to stampede the Comintern to the left. The Communist parties had to smash all other tendencies in order to capture the leadership of the movement; the time for debate was over!

As a recipe for civil war in the labour movement, Stalin put forward the insane argument that “objectively, Social Democracy is the moderate wing of fascism… They are not antipodes but twins.” (Quoted in Deutscher.)

The most disastrous result of “third-period Stalinism” were experienced in Germany, where it split the working class, allowed Hitler to take power, and made the Second World War inevitable.

For reasons unforeseen by Stalin, the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange in October 1929 led to a worldwide capitalist depression. Germany, in particular, was devastated. The crisis of leadership and sectarianism which paralysed the labour movement, however, allowed Hitler’s Nazis to build-up growing support.

The ruined middle class, the unemployed, the workers and youth looked in vain to the SPD and KPD for a solution. The SPD leaders were married to capitalism; the KPD was obsessed with attacking the SPD and breaking-up its meetings.

The middle class and the most downtrodden layers in particular were drawn in increasing numbers to the “National Socialist” rallies. The fascists’ demagogic attacks on capitalists and Jews; their mystical promise to restore German “greatness”; above all, their appearance of purposeful determination seemed the only alternative to these layers.

Among organised workers, support for Hitler was almost non-existent.

Trotsky explained the critical need for a united front of workers’ organisations to crush the fascist menace and, in so doing, to prepare the working class for the conquest of power. But the Stalinised leadership of the Comintern was blind and deaf to reality.

The German labour movement was the most powerful in the world. Both the Social-Democrats and the Communist Party had military-wings. But, on Moscow’s instructions, the KPD leaders refused all cooperation with the “social-fascists” – even going so far, in 1931, as to join the Nazis in trying to bring down a Social-Democratic government in Prussia!

The German workers’ movement, the hope of workers everywhere, was annihilated without any serious attempt at resistance by its leadership.

The Stalinists were incapable of drawing the conclusions. In April 1933, with Hitler in power, the Presidium of the ECCI declared that the KPD’s policy had been “completely correct”!

This historical failure of leadership, and the absence of any criticism from the ranks of the Communist International, finally convinced Trotsky that the Cominterns – like the Second International before it – was dead as an instrument of workers’ revolution.

The forces of genuine Marxism had been decimated by the savage blows of a decade. The perspective of a new world war, and new revolutionary upheavals, was opening up. Objectively, a new international was necessary to regroup, to build and prepare the Marxist tendency for the critical struggles ahead.

Continue to Chapter Nineteen