Gabriel Kuhn's Blog

The Legacy of the Comintern and the Global South

By Gabriel Kuhn

Some months ago, Shirsho Dasgupta, who is based in Kolkata, invited me to do an interview for the blog Doing the Rondo, based on my book Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics. Around the same time, my latest PM Press release, Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture was reviewed on Radical Notes, a “small endeavor to coordinate the radical voices around the globe, with special focus on South Asia”. This was humbling. After all, it is curious how little attention radicals in the Global North are still paying to political developments in the Global South. We regularly bemoan the “crisis of the left”, but, if we take India as an example, there is an almost complete lack of analysis concerning the communist government of Kerala or the ongoing guerrilla struggle of the Naxalites. Not even the Maoist rise to power in neighboring Nepal or the massive workers’ uprisings in Bangladesh have aroused much interest. If groups in the Global North do show interest, they are quickly dismissed as sectarian, as if that was the same thing as being marginalized. I don’t expect any particular movement to lead us to socialist paradise, no matter where. But disregarding the experiences of militants in the Global South when discussing the global prospects of socialism simply reproduces Eurocentric attitudes.

About a year ago, my work with PM Press, in this case the book All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918-1919 brought me in touch with another radical scholar from India. Arun Kumar Sinha, also based in Kolkata, was working on the Comintern’s impact on the global communist movement.

Sinha has now presented his findings in a book titled Formative Years of Communist International and the Metamorphosis of Bolshevism, published by Aakar Books in Delhi. He discusses the Bolshevik Revolution and the lack of follow-up revolutions in Europe, before diving into the history of the Comintern, investigating how it shaped the understanding of class, revolution, and the dictatorship of the proletariat among communists worldwide. His conclusion is highly critical of the Comintern’s legacy:

“As the policy of CI became riveted to the interests of Soviet Russia, every independent political action of the working class was seen only to promote the international interests of Soviet Russia. The role of the working class was at best promoted in organizing them in trade unions with strong links to the parent political party, the question of socialism and dictatorship of the proletariat were never posed before the practices of trade union struggle of the working class at any stage of class struggle. In a complimentary sense, the working class never could raise its spontaneity in class actions, were always confined to their goal as tutored by the ‘leaders’ before them.”

Sinha reaches this conclusion through examining the work of authors who have been eyed critically in the halls of Marxist orthodoxy – the likes of Victor Serge, Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandra Kollontai, Antonie Pannekoek, Herman Gorter, and Charles Bettelheim. For Sinha, “the fallacy that was maintained under the leadership of CI within the international working class movement was the imposition of preordained infallibility for the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin”. By making assertions like these, Sinha rattles another Eurocentric assumption, namely that socialists in the Global South are prone to adhere to just orthodoxy. This largely stems from prejudice.

Sinha believes that the Comintern, by turning the Bolshevist model into a blueprint for socialist revolutions in general, bears responsibility for many of such revolutions failing throughout the twentieth century. In his opinion, “the working class after attainment of nationhood in the colonies and in the semi-colonies was never near to class-power”. What we witnessed was rather “a monotonic repetition of the affairs of the working class being controlled and tutored by the interests of a bureaucratic state apparatus”. This, without doubt, is a note that radicals – in the Global South as well as the Global North – must take to heart shall the twenty-first century turn out any different.

(January 2018)

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