The changed alignment of class forces in Europe rapidly pushed the Soviet regime into a new U-turn.

Germany under Hitler posed a far more immediate threat to them than the western imperialist powers. Above all, Stalin feared war and the effect it would have on the Soviet masses. To avoid war, he calculated, it was essential to appease Hitler.

Throughout 1933, while Hitler liquidated the KPD, the SPD and the trade unions, and began the genocide of the Jews, Stalin uttered not a word of criticism. Throughout the 1930s the Soviet bureaucracy hoped to reach an agreement with Hitler.

But Hitler was relying on the “Communist menace” as a pretext for rearmament in defiance of his “Allied” imperialist rivals. He could not be seen to fraternise with Stalin at this stage. (Only in August 1939, when Hitler was preparing to strike to the west, was the notorious Stalin-Hitler pact of non-aggression signed.)

Surrounded by fascist and right-wing regimes, Stalin’s “revolutionary” ultra-leftism evaporated. Trotsky and the International Left Opposition explained (as the Comintern had explained a dozen years earlier) that the only real security for the USSR lay in revolutionary internationalism – in supporting the workers’ struggle for power in the capitalist states, carrying the war to the enemy and paralysing reaction.

But the Russian bureaucracy were incapable of following this course; their own dictatorship would have been the first casualty if the Russian workers became infected with these ideas! Instead, quietly forgetting that capitalism was in its “third period”, they looked for support against Hitler – to the western imperialist powers!

The imperialists were not unwilling to use Stalin for their own purposes. In September 1934 they accepted the Soviet Union’s application to join the League of Nations (describe by Lenin as a “robbers’ den”); in May 1935 French imperialism signed a pact of “mutual assistance” with Stalin!

This turn by the Soviet bureaucracy marked a qualitative new stage in their degeneration. For the first time they entered openly and deliberately, into political alliances with the capitalist class itself. Their opportunist failures, from this point onwards, became transformed into a deliberate betrayal of the workers’ revolution internationally as a condition for capitalist “friendship”.

The writing had been on the wall at the 1928 Comintern congress, where the idea of “socialism in one country” was swallowed without a murmur. Trotsky warned that this would be “the beginning of the disintegration of the Comintern along the lines of social-patriotism”. (The Third International After Lenin.) After 1934 this prediction rapidly became a fact.

The Soviet bureaucracy’s entanglement with the “progressive” capitalist powers was followed, inevitably, by the turn of the Communist parties internationally seeking alliances with “progressive” capitalist and reformist parties in their own countries.

The slogan now became “the people’s front”. The workers’ class demands were dropped from the programs which the Communist parties put forward – this would “alienate” the “progressive” bourgeoisie!

“Broad support” among the middle class, the Stalinists wisely proclaimed, could only be won through a program confined to bourgeois-democratic demands. Today the middle class is no longer a mass force in the industrialised countries; yet the same program and the same arguments are still used by the “Communist” parties. This confirms that the real purpose, then as now, was not so much to win mass support as to build up a bargaining position in relation to the capitalist parties.

The full bankruptcy of this position was exposed in the revolutionary events that erupted in France and Spain during 1935 and 1936. First in France, then in Spain, “Popular Front” governments swept to power with Communist support. In both countries, after the rigors of the depression and right-wing rule, this opened the floodgates of mass struggle.

In Spain, a military coup was launched against the “People’s Front” government in July 1936. The reformists, Stalinists and bourgeois Republicans dithered; the workers and peasants took up arms. Within days, most of the country was under their control. Spain was plunged into a full-scale revolutionary crisis, at a far higher level than Russia in 1917.

“Red rule in Barcelona – Extremists out of hand”, headlined the London Times on 1 August. Two days later its correspondent summed up the demands of the masses: “a 36-hour week, unemployment pay, control of production, the seizure and distribution of land, … the maintenance of the [workers’] militias in arms…” and after another few days:

‘Committees of Workers’ have taken over the big railway companies. It seems only a question of time for this to happen to the trams, the banks and other key establishments.

The Times, 8 August 1936

Stalin, no less than the capitalist class, viewed the unfolding revolution with horror. All his hopes of stable ties with the Anglo-French imperialists were at risk. Worse still, the example of the Spanish workers threatened to infect the Russian workers with the same will to struggle for control of society. The Spanish revolution had to be strangled at all costs.

Slavishly following Moscow’s directives, the Communist Party of Spain waged an all-out struggle against the workers’ revolutionary movement.

In the name of “Bolshevism” they argued the Menshevik theory of “two stages”, confining their program to “bourgeois democracy” in the futile hope of reassuring the capitalists that “Communism” posed no threat to them. GPU death squads were sent to Spain to assist in the gruesome task of disarming the workers’ militias and exterminating their vanguard.

Deferring to Stalin’s wheeling and dealing with the imperialist powers, the “Communists” shut their eyes to the first lesson of the Russian Revolution: capitalism cannot guarantee democracy and stability to the working class in the conclusive epoch of imperialism. The tasks of “bourgeois democracy” in semi-developed countries such as Spain could only be carried out under the rule of the working class itself.

Tragically, Trotsky’s sympathisers in Spain missed the golden opportunity of winning the Socialist youth to their program, establishing a mass base for Marxism and leading the movement to victory.

Without Marxist leadership the working class could not withstand the onslaught of the class enemy combined with that of their own reformist and “Communist” leaders. Stalinism succeeded in dividing the movement, isolating the left and murdering its best fighters. This made the victory of fascism inevitable.

The last hope of working class victory had been extinguished in Europe, at least until the conclusion of the imperialist war which now became unavoidable.

Continue to Chapter Twenty