Centrist Marxism

English: Heading of an ILP letter

The material on centrist Marxism was removed from the Wikipedia article on Centrism, so I have created a new article on the former. It is very much a work in progress, so anyone reading this who is a Wikipedia editor, please work on it. It started like this:

Centrism has a specific meaning within the Marxist movement, referring to a position between a revolutionary and reformist position. For instance, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) was seen as centrist because they oscillated between advocating reaching a socialist economy through reforms and advocating revolution. The members of the so-called Two-and-a-half and Three-and-a-half Internationals, who could not choose between the reformism of the social democrat Second International and the revolutionary politics of the Communist Third International, are exemplary of centrism in this sense; instances are the Spanish Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), ILP and Poale Zion.

Revolutionary Marxists often describe centrism in this sense as opportunistic, since it argues for a revolution at some point in the future but urges reformist practices in the mean time; Libertarian socialists and anarchists view any reformism as political opportunism because they view reformism as incapable of effecting structural changes to social organization.[1]

The term “Centrism” also denotes positions held by some of the Bolsheviks during the 1920s. In this context, “Centrism” refers to a position between the Right Opposition (which supported the New Economic Policy and friendly relations with capitalist countries) and the Left Opposition (which supported an immediate transition to a socialist economy and world revolution). By the end of the 1920s, the two opposing factions had been defeated by Joseph Stalin who eventually gained enough support from members of the factions through the application of various ideas formed by the factions’ various leaders. (i.e. Leon TrotskyNikolai Bukharin, etc.)

Some parties, groups and individuals who should be included:

// The International Working Union of Socialist Parties (IWUSP; also known as 2½ International or the Vienna InternationalGermanInternationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sozialistischer Parteien, IASP) was a political international for the co-operation of socialist parties. IWUSP was founded on February 27, 1921, at a conference in ViennaAustria, by ten parties, including the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), theFrench Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO), the Independent Labour Party (ILP), the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland (SPS), the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ), and the Federation of Romanian Socialist Parties (FPSR, successor to the Socialist Party of Romania). In April 1921, it was joined by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. The Maximalist faction of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) also joined.

The secretary of IWUSP was the Austrian Friedrich Adler of the SPÖ; other prominent members were Victor AdlerOtto Bauer and Julius Martov. The group was heavily influenced by Austromarxism. It published Nachrichten der Internationalen Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sozialistischen Parteien (“News of IWUSP”). Poale Zion (labour Zionist) leadersDavid Ben-Gurion and Shlomo Kaplansky were active in the movement behind the Two and a Half International.[1]

The founders of IWUSP were parties that saw neither the reformist Second International nor the Communist and pro-Soviet Third International as alternatives for affiliation. The IWUSP criticized the other two Internationals for what it perceived to be dogmatism, and advocated that more consideration should be given to the particularities of the political situation in each country. It worked for the unification of the Second and Third Internationals. From April 2 to April 5, 1922 a meeting was held in Berlin with delegations from the three different international bodies to discuss a merger, but unity could not be achieved and the Comintern withdrew from the talks.

//The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (GermanUnabhängige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands,USPD) was a short-lived political party in Germany during the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic. The organization was established in 1917 as the result of a split of left wing members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The organization attempted to chart a middle course between electorally oriented revisionism on the one hand and bolshevism on the other. The organization was terminated in 1931 through merger with the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany (SAPD).

The history of the USPD began on December 21, 1915, members of the SPD fraction in the Reichstag, the German parliament, voted against the authorization of further credits to finance World War I, an incident that emphasized existing tensions between the party’s leadership and the left-wing pacifists surrounding Hugo Haase and ultimately led to the expulsion of the group from the SPD fraction on March 24, 1916.

To be able to continue their parliamentary work, the group formed the Sozialdemokratische Arbeitsgemeinschaft (SAG, “Social Democratic Working Group”); concerns from the SPD leadership and Friedrich Ebert that the SAG was intent on dividing the SPD then led to the expulsion of the SAG members from the SPD on January 18, 1917. Three months later, on April 6, 1917, the USPD was founded at a conference in Gotha, with Hugo Haase as the party’s first chairman; the Spartakusbund also merged into the newly founded party, but retained relative autonomy.[1] To avoid confusion, the existing SPD was typically called MSPD (Mehrheits-SPD, “majority-SPD”) from then on.

Following the Januarstreik in January 1918, a strike demanding an end to the war and better food provisioning that was organized by revolutionaries affiliated with the USPD and officially supported by the party, the USPD quickly rose to about 120,000 members; despite harsh criticism of the SPD for becoming part of the government of the newly formed German republic during the Oktoberreform, the USPD reached a settlement with the SPD as the Novemberrevolution began, and even became part of the government in the form of the Rat der Volksbeauftragten (“council of people’s deputies”), which was formed on November 10, 1918 and mutually led by Friedrich Ebert and Hugo Haase following the German Revolution.

The agreement did not last long, though, for on December 29, 1918, Haase, Wilhelm Dittmann and Emil Barth left the council again to protest the SPD’s actions during the soldier mutiny in Berlin on November 23, 1918. At the same time, the Spartakusbund, led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, separated from the USPD again as well to merge with other left wing groups and form the KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, “Communist Party of Germany”)….

In 1920, four delegates from the USPD attended the 2nd World Congress of the CominternErnst DäumigArthur CrispienWalter Stoecker and Wilhelm Dittmann to discuss participating in the Comintern.[2] Whilst Däumig and Stoecker agreed with the International’s 21 conditions of entry, Crispien and Dittmann opposed them,[3] leading to a controversial debate over joining theComintern to break out in the USPD; many members felt that the necessary requirements for joining would lead to a loss of the party’s independence and a perceived “dictate from Moscow”, while others, especially younger members such as Ernst Thälmann, argued that only the joining of the Comintern would allow the party to implement its socialist ideals.

Ultimately, the proposition to join the Comintern was approved at a party convention in Halle in October 1920 by 237 votes to 156,[4] with various international speakers including Julius MartovJean Longuet and Grigory Zinoviev. The USPD split up in the process, with both groups seeing themselves as the rightful USPD and the other one as being outcast. On December 4, 1920, the left wing of the USPD, with about 400,000 members, merged into the KPD, forming the VKPD (Vereinigte Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, “United Communist Party of Germany”), while the other half of the party, with about 340,000 members and including three quarters of the 81 Reichstag members, continued under the name USPD; led by Georg Ledebour and Arthur Crispien, they advocated a parliamentary democracy. The USPD was instrumental in the creation of the 2½ International in 1921.

//The Revolutionary Socialist Party (in Dutch: Revolutionair Socialistische Partij, RSP) was a Dutch socialist political party…. The oldest predecessor of the Revolutionary Socialist Party is the Revolutionary Socialist Union (Dutch: Revolutionair Socialistisch Verbond; RSV), a group of dissidents from the Communist Party Holland (CPH) led by Henk Sneevliet. Another predecessor is the Socialist Party (Dutch: Socialistische Partij; SP), a syndicalist party, which was closely linked to the anarcho-syndicalist trade union National Workers’ Secretariat (NAS).

In 1929 former members of both the Revolutionary Socialist Union and the Socialist Party founded the Revolutionary Socialist Party. Both parties opposed both the reformistsocial-democracy of the SDAP and the CPH. A leading person in the foundation was Henk Sneevliet, a prominent former member of CPH and an associate of Leon Trotsky. The Central Intelligence Service, the Dutch secret service at the time, attributed the foundation of the RSP to Sneevliets personal need for power and glory, from which he was blocked in the CPH which distrusted the “trotskyite” Sneevliet.[1]

//The Right Opposition was the name given to the tendency made up of Nikolai BukharinAlexei RykovMikhail Tomsky and their supporters within the Soviet Union in the late 1920s. It is also the name given to “right-wing” critics within the Communist movement internationally, particularly those who coalesced in the International Communist Opposition, regardless of whether they identified with Bukharin and Rykov…

The various right oppositional groups loosely aligned with Bukharin within the Comintern were forced to form their own organisations when they were, in their turn, purged from the national sections of the Comintern.

  • In Europe, the most important and substantial of these new organisations was the Communist Party Opposition (KPO) in Germany, led by Heinrich Brandler.
  • In the United StatesJay LovestoneBertram Wolfe and their supporters founded the Communist Party (Opposition) and published the newspaperWorkers Age.
  • In Canada, the Marxian Educational League was formed as part of Lovestone’s CP(O), and it became affiliated with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. However, by the end of 1939, both the Toronto and Montreal groups of this organization had ceased to function.
  • In a few places, communist groups affiliated with the ICO achieved more success than the Comintern-affiliated organizations. For example, in Sweden, the Socialist Party of Karl Kilbom, affiliated with the ICO, received 5.7% of the vote in the 1932 elections to the Riksdag, outpolling the Comintern section which received 3.9%.
  • In Spain, the ICO-affiliated Bloque Obrero y Campesino (BOC), led by Joaquin Maurin, was for a time larger and more important than the official Spanish Communist Party. Later, the BOC merged with Andrés Nin‘s Izquierda Comunista in 1935 to form the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) which was to be a major party backing theSecond Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War. Maurin became general secretary of the POUM but was arrested early in the Civil War. As a result, Nin, a former Trotskyist, became the POUM’s new leader….
  • In France the initial purge of the Communist Party in 1929 took mayors or city councilors from ClichyAuffaySaint-DenisPierrefitte-sur-SeineVilletaneuse and Paris. The party’s general secretary and the editor of L’Humanité were also demoted. However not all of the expelled necessarily adhered to the ICOs positions; the Parisian councilors, for instance, formed their own party, Workers and Peasants Party, which in turn joined the Party of Proletarian Unity in December 1930. The small national Opposition group joined the expelled Seine Federation of the SFIO in 1938 to from the Workers and Peasants’ Socialist Party.[18]  …
  • During most of its history the right Opposition in the United Kingdom was represented principally within the Independent Labour Party. Oppositionists joined the Revolutionary Policy Committee which represented their line within the ILP. An independent Opposition group was formed in 1935, but had little influence. By 1938 the line of the ICO had turned toward the “centrist” position of the ILP leadership under Fenner Brockway and the need for independent factions within the party became less tenable.[21]
  • [In India,] leading Indian Communist Manabendra Nath Roy was an early and outspoken supporter of the Right Opposition. While he never had more than a marginal following, he wielded extraordinary influence on the left wing of the Indian National Congress and played an instrumental role in the election of Subhash Chandra Bose to the leadership of Congress. However, after Bose split with Congress and formed the All India Forward Bloc, Roy sharply diverged to the point where he even came to oppose the Congress-ledQuit India campaign. The split between Bose and Roy was in many ways analogous to the American split between Bertram Wolfe and Jay Lovestone…

In all, the ICO had member parties in fifteen countries during the 1930s. However, the ICO and its affiliates did not consider themselves a new international, but a “faction” that was involuntarily excluded from the Comintern and that was anxious to return to it if only the Comintern would change its policies and allow ICO members the freedom to advocate their positions.

//The Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany (GermanSozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SAPD) was a centrist Marxist political partyin Germany. It was formed by a left-wing party with around 20,000 members which split off from the SPD in the autumn of 1931. In 1931, the remnants of USPD merged into the party, and in 1932 some Communist Party dissenters joined the group too, as well as a part from the Communist Party Opposition. Nevertheless, its membership remained small. From 1933, the group’s members worked illegally against National Socialism

In 1934, the youth of SAPD took part in the foundation of the International Bureau of Revolutionary Youth Organizations. The congress, which was held in the Netherlands, was broken up by Dutch police. Several SAPD delegates were handed over to German authorities. The congress then re-convened in Lille. Brandt was elected to the Secretariat of the organization, and worked in Sweden for the Bureau. The SAPD was affiliated to the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre, but broke with the main party of that international, the Independent Labour Party, over the question of the united front and popular front.

// The International Revolutionary Marxist Centre was an international association of left-socialist parties. The member-parties rejected both mainstream social democracy and the Third International. The International was formed in 1932, following a fringe meeting at the Socialist International conference in Vienna in 1931. The IRMC underwent a variety of names. It was initially called the Committee of Independent Revolutionary Socialist Parties and later the International Bureau of Revolutionary Socialist Unity, but throughout the period it was generally known simply as the London Bureau (and nicknamed by some the 3½ International, in an analogy with the so-called 2½ International of 1921-3), although its headquarters were transferred from London to Paris in 1939 (on the grounds that in addition to the French affiliate, five parties-in-exile had their central committees there). Its youth wing was the International Bureau of Revolutionary Youth Organizations.

For a period, the IRMC was close to the Trotskyist movement and the International Left Opposition. In the early 1930s, Leon Trotsky and his supporters believed that Stalin’s influence over the Third International could still be fought from within and slowly rolled back… Trotsky claimed that the Third Period policies of the Comintern had contributed to the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, and that its turn to a popular front policy (aiming to unite all ostensibly anti-fascist forces) sowed illusions in reformism and pacifism and “clear[ed] the road for a fascist overturn”. By 1935 he claimed that the Comintern had fallen irredeemably into the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy.[2] He and his supporters, expelled from the Third International, participated in a conference of the London Bureau. Three of those parties joined the Left Opposition in signing a document written by Trotsky calling for a Fourth International, which became known as the “Declaration of Four”.[3] Of those, two soon distanced themselves from the agreement, but the Dutch Revolutionary Socialist Party worked with the International Left Opposition to declare the International Communist League.[4]

This position was contested by Andrés Nin and some other members of the League who did not support the call for a new International. This group prioritised regroupment with other communist oppositions, principally the International Communist Opposition (ICO), linked to the Right Opposition in the Soviet Party, a regroupment which eventually led to the formation of the International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity. Trotsky considered those organisations to be centrist. Despite Trotsky, the Spanish section merged with the Spanish section of ICO, forming the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM). Trotsky claimed the merger was to be a capitulation to centrism.[5] The Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany, a left split from the Social Democratic Party of Germany founded in 1931, co-operated with the International Left Opposition briefly in 1933 but soon abandoned the call for a new International.

The secretariat of the International Centre remained with the British Independent Labour Party (ILP) for all but one of the eight years 1932-1940. Fenner Brockway, ILP leader, was chairman of the Bureau for most of this period, while in 1939, Julian Gorkin of the POUM became its secretary. By this time, the Bureau had member parties in more than 20 countries, including the NetherlandsAustriaCzechoslovakia, the United States, and Palestine.

//The International Communist Opposition began to disintegrate in 1933. With the coming to power of the Nazis, the German party had to go underground and establish an exile branch in Paris. Paris was also the new home of the international ICO headquarters, which became dominated by the Germans. The Norwegian and Swedish groups left later that year to join the new “centrist” International Buro for Revolutionary Socialist Unity (or London Bureau) established in Paris that August. The Czechoslovak affiliate was weakened by the defection of its Czech members in December, making the party a largely Sudeten German group while that community was becoming increasingly attracted to the Nazis. The Austrian group had to go underground after the Dollfus putsch of March 1934, and the majority of the Alsatian section was expelled that summer for its pro-Nazi sympathies. The Swiss affiliate went over to the Social Democrats in 1936, and M.N. Roy took his Indian group out in 1937. Furthermore, the suppression of POUM in May 1937 and the execution of Bukharin and other “rights” in the Soviet Union had convinced many that the Communist International could not be reformed and the idea of being an “opposition” within it was untenable.[3]

At a conference in February 1938 the International Communist Opposition affiliated with the London Bureau. This led to some confusion as to whether affiliates of the ICO were also affiliates of the London Bureau as organizations themselves. To straightened out this overlapping another conference was held in Paris in April 1939 which dissolved both entities into a new organization, the International Revolutionary Marxist Center, to be headquartered in Paris. Membership in the new group was quickly ratified by the ILLA, the KPO, POUM, PSOP, the ILP and the Archaio-Marxists. It ceased to exist after the fall of France.[4] Few groups continue the tradition of this current today. The Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik in Germany is one such group.

//In 1935 the [Dutch] RSP and the Independent Socialist Party (OSP) merged to form the Revolutionary Socialist Workers’ Party (in Dutch: Revolutionair Socialistische Arbeiderspartij; RSAP). The OSP saw this as away to gain seats in the next election, while the RSP saw it as a way to strengthen its basis. Although the OSP had more members, the RSP, which had one MP, was far stronger. Former RSP’er Sneevliet remained the party’s sole MP and Schmidt, the leader of the OSP became the party chairman. Sneevliet also became secretary of the party-board. Internal tensions between former members of the RSP and OSP formed the downfall of the party. In 1935 a group of former OSP’ers left the party to found the League of Revolutionary Socialists. The direct reason for this split was the question which group of left-wing German refuges the party should ally with. In 1936 Schmidt was removed from the party ranks and Sneevliet took the position of chair. Schmidt’s sympathy for democracy and his fear of totalitarian dictatorship was the direct reason of this split. In the elections of 1937 the party was unable to win any seats. After these elections the party received more opposition from the Dutch government: civil servants were forbidden to be member of NAS or the RSAP and prominent members of the RSAP were persecuted for insulting ‘friendly heads of state’ like Hitler. The communist CPN which had gained strength after several purges, also campaigned strongly against the “trotskyite counterrevolutionary sect”.[2] Strong arm squads of the CPN attacked several prominent RSAP-members. Finally Trotsky and Sneevliet entered in an ideological conflict, cutting the RSAP off from its international contacts.

One day before the Dutch capitulation, May 14, 1940. the RSAP was officially dissolved. In 1938 it was already secretly decided that if the Germans would invade the RSAP would dissolve and go underground. The party was reformed into the resistance organization Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front. As such it supported the February strike. In 1942 Sneevliet was executed. This prevented the re-foundation of the RSP after the Second World War.

The party’s third way between authoritarian Communism and social-democracy would later be reflected in the left-socialist Pacifist Socialist Party, which was also founded by former members of the communist CPN and the social-democratic PvdA.

Also relevant:

//[In 1935, Trotsky] and his supporters, expelled from the Third International, participated in a conference of the London Bureau of socialist parties outside both the Socialist International and the Comintern. Three of those parties joined the Left Opposition in signing a document written by Trotsky calling for a Fourth International, which became known as the “Declaration of Four”.[10] Of those, two soon distanced themselves from the agreement, but the Dutch Revolutionary Socialist Party worked with the International Left Opposition to declare the International Communist League.[11]

This position was contested by Andrés Nin and some other members of the League who did not support the call for a new International. This group prioritised regroupment with other communist oppositions, principally the International Communist Opposition (ICO), linked to the Right Opposition in the Soviet Party, a regroupment which eventually led to the formation of the International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity. Trotsky considered those organisations to be centrist. Despite Trotsky, the Spanish section merged with the Spanish section of ICO, forming the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM). Trotsky claimed the merger was to be a capitulation to centrism.[12] The Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany [SAPD], a left split from the Social Democratic Party of Germany founded in 1931, co-operated with the International Left Opposition briefly in 1933 but soon abandoned the call for a new International.

//The Revolutionary Communist League (RCL) or ‘Brit Kommunistim Mahapchanin was a Trotskyist party in Palestine in the late 1930s and 1940s. It was built out of three components: exiled German Jewish members of Heinrich Brandler’s KPO (Communist Party Opposition – which emerged out of the Right Opposition within the Comintern) who became supporters of the International Left Opposition; youth in the Hugim Marxistiim (Marxist Circles), the youth section of a wing of Left Poale Zion, which at the time was linked to the ‘centrist‘ London Bureau; and elements coming from the left Zionist kibbutz movement, Hashomer Hatzair, which was also linked to the London Bureau. Later, in the 1940s, they were joined by Jabra Nicola, an Arab Communist who broke with the Palestine Communist Party over the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The Brit Kommunistim Mahapchanin published a newspaper, Kol Hama’amad (Voice of the Class).[1] Tony Cliff was a member, before moving to Britain and joining the RCL’s sister party in the Fourth International, the Revolutionary Communist Party (UK) and later leading the International Socialists.

See also: Jean Longuet, Paul FaureCommunist Archeiomarxist Party of GreeceIndependent Labor League of America,  League for a Revolutionary Workers Party,

Previously: Defining the centrist tradition.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. [...] einen Film über Henriette Roland-Holst auf der Webseite des IISG, Poumista widmet sich dem Thema Zentrismus, die AWL erinnert an Paul Widelin/Martin Monat die SPGB hat ihr Socialist Standard-Artikel-Archiv [...]

  2. what does the ‘S’ mean in the logo? ‘socialist’?

  3. Petey, I don’t know! I think you must be right, as many of the banners of the ILP in that period had “Socialism” as the main slogan. It’s the 120th anniversary of the ILP next week, so I will do some work on this before then


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