Toward a global strategic framework: The Comintern and Asia 1919-25 (Part 1)
Publisher: Links - International Journal of Socialist Renewal
Date Written: 28/01/2018
Year Published: 2018
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX22533
The revolutionary activists who founded the Communist International (Comintern) in 1919 had little contact with movements for national and colonial liberation outside Russia. Nonetheless, only a year later, in July 1920, the Comintern adopted a far-reaching strategy for national and social revolution in dependent countries, later termed the anti-imperialist united front.
The anti-imperialist united front did not achieve decisive results in the 1920s, and in China, where conditions were the most favourable, it led in 1927 to a severe defeat. To understand this setback, we must look at ambiguities of the policy itself and at the contradictory relationship of national parties with the Moscow-based Comintern leadership. In subsequent decades, efforts to forge unity against imperialism scored important victories and contributed to the demise of direct colonial rule almost everywhere by the end of the century. The interaction in the early 1920s of pioneer anti-colonial activists with central leaders of the Russian revolution reveals much regarding the dynamic of such movements throughout the century.
Socialists and colonial freedom
The Comintern emerged in part as a reaction against the Socialist or Second International, which unified world socialist forces from 1889 to 1914. The Comintern's Second Congress (1920) denounced its predecessor as having "in reality recognized the existence only of people with white skin," while Indian Communist M.N. Roy told the same gathering that for the pre-1914 International "the world did not exist outside of Europe."
Marxist teaching then rested on an economic logic underlying the emergence of nations. Capitalist expansion, while cruel in its effects, had a progressive result: the creation of the modern proletariat. Some right-wing socialists, like Hendrick Van Kol of the Netherlands, rationalized this into support for enlightened colonialism. Revolutionary Marxists succeeded in 1907 in convincing a Second International congress to categorically condemn colonialism but only by a narrow margin of 127 to 108. Even then, the International stopped short of calling for independence for the colonies.
Revolutionary uprisings in China, Turkey, and Iran (Persia) in 1908-11 convinced many socialists that liberation struggles in Asia would shake capitalist stability. Lenin heralded the new era by the audacious title he placed on an article in 1913, "Backward Europe, Advanced Asia":
Everywhere in Asia a mighty democratic movement is growing, spreading and gaining in strength. The bourgeoisie there is as yet siding with the people against reaction. Hundreds of millions of people are awakening to life, light and freedom. What delight this world movement is arousing in the hearts of all class-conscious workers, who know that the path to collectivism lies through democracy! What sympathy for young Asia imbues all honest democrats!