Third Period

Third Period

The Third Period was the policy adopted by the Comintern at the end of the Soviet Union's New Economic Policy in 1928 and was in place until the adoption of the Popular Front policy in 1935.

The Third Period policy was based on Stalin's theory of class struggle in which the "First Period" that followed World War I saw the upsurge and defeat of the working class and the "Second Period" was the time for capitalist consolidation. The Third Period was conceived by the Comintern in 1928 as the time for working class revolution. [cite journal|last=O'Mahony|first=John|title=The Labour Party in perspective|journal=Workers' Liberty |issue=28|date=February 1996|url=|accessdate= 2006-11-29]

The Third Period policy came to an end with the inauguration of the Popular Front policy in 1935. The 180° turn in the policy of the Comintern caused considerable confusion among those workers who had been drawn in by the rhetoric during the Third Period.

Communist Parties and workers' attitudes

Communist Parties worldwide adapted their local activism to the Third Period policy. The policy dictated the formation of a militant labour movement under the Red International of Labour Unions, and was committed to a revolutionary industrial program to compete with moderate labour organizations.

Significant numbers of workers responded to this strategy in the depression because they faced unemployment, wage reductions, and worsening working conditions. Mainstream labour organizations responded to the depression by retreating from industrial conflict; these unions were weakened by the economic crisis and, in general, chose to cooperate with employers because they felt confrontation would only exacerbate the problem.

Many industrial workers therefore accepted Communist leadership during the Third Period, not because they were persuaded by the arguments of the Comintern, but because Communists offered a militant strategy in desperate times, and few moderate options existed to struggle for better conditions. Communist Parties did see increases in membership, but this continued to be a tiny fraction of the working class.

"Social fascism"

One notable development in this period was that Communists organized the unemployed into a political force, despite their distance from the means of production. Another distinguishing feature of this policy was that Communists fought against their rivals on the left as vehemently as their opponents on the right of the political spectrum, with special viciousness directed at real or imaginary followers of Leon Trotsky. Social Democrats were targeted by Communist polemics, in which they were dubbed "social fascists."

In Germany, this approach has been blamed for the rise of Nazism because such rigid sectarianism precluded any amount of unity on the left. Hitler's rise to power, consequently, was also a reason for the abandonment of the policy in favour of the Popular Front strategy because Germany became the biggest security threat to the Soviet Union.

North America

Historians of the left have debated the contribution made by Communist activism in North America during the Third Period. Some revisionist authors like Robin D. G. Kelley and John Manley have penned local histories that portray Communist Party members as effective activists, heroic in many cases because their revolutionary zeal helped them confront extremely adverse circumstances. Despite the shadow of Stalinism, in this perspective, the important positive contributions Communist organizers made in working class history should not be discounted.

Critics of this new revisionism argue that these histories gloss over or ignore both the horrors of Stalinism and also the devastating consequences of the Third Period inasmuch as it facilitated the rise of Hitler and alienated the working class writ large from the left because of its sectarianism and adventurism. [cite journal|last=Roediger|first=David|title=Where Communism was Black|journal=American Quarterly |volume=44|issue=1 |pages=123–128|date=March 1992|url=|doi=10.2307/2713184|accessdate=2006-11-29 ; cite journal|last=Manley|first=John|title=Canadian Communists, Revolutionary Unionism, and the "Third Period": The Workers' Unity League, 1929-1935|journal=Journal of the Canadian Historical Association |volume=New Series 5|pages=167–191 |date=1994; cite journal|last=McIlroy|first=John|coauthors=Alan Campbell
title="Nina Ponomareva's Hats": The New Revisionism, the Communist International, and the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1920-1930|journal=Labour/Le Travail|issue=49|date=Spring 2002

Development and causes of the Third Period

In December 1927, the Russian Communist Party held its Fifteenth Party Congress; prior to this Congress, the faction of the Party led by Stalin had supported the continuation of the New Economic Policy. However, in the cities, industry had become undercapitalized, and prices were rising. In the countryside, moreover, the NEP had resulted in an enrichment of certain privileged sections of the Russian and Ukrainian peasantry (the Kulaks) because of deregulation of prices for grain. An embryonic new bourgeoisie was meanwhile growing up on the basis of the market relations introduced under the NEP and gaining increasing influence both within the Party and in the state apparatus.

These events were leading to growing economic and political instability. The towns were being threatened with a "chronic danger of famine" in 1928-1929. [Deutscher, Isaac, "Stalin", pp322, Penguin, (1966)] The Left Opposition had opposed the continued marketization of agriculture through the NEP policy, and, since 1924, had repeatedly called for investment in industry, some collectivization in agriculture and democratization of the Party. Threatened by the growing power and revolt from the countryside led by the Kulaks and the strengthening bourgeoisie, the Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU passed resolutions that supported for some of the planks of the Opposition’s platform, and on paper, the Congress’ views appeared very left, politically. [Stalin's proposals were set out in [ "Questions of Socialist Construction in the U.S.S.R"] , 1928. Leon Trotsky's version is set out in [ "A Sharp Turn: “The Five Year Plan in Four Years” and “Complete Collectivization”"] in " [ The Revolution Betrayed] " 1936] However, the Left Opposition was expelled.

The new policies of industrialization and collectivization now adopted were given the slogan "socialist accumulation". The Communist party had publicly proposed collectivization to be voluntary; however, lower level officials occasionally disregarded official policy, and motivated the peasants into joining the communes by use of threats and false promises. In what Issac Deutscher calls "the great change", [Deutscher, Isaac, "Stalin", pp296ff, Penguin, (1966)] the new policies of industrialization and collectivization now adopted were carried out in a ruthless and brutal way, via the use of the security and military forces, without the direct involvement of the working class and peasantry itself and without seeming regard for the social consequences. According to figures given by Deutscher, the peasants opposed forced collectivisation by slaughtering 18 million horses, 30 million cattle, about 45 per cent of the total, and 100 million sheep and goats, about two thirds of the total. Kulaks who engaged in these behaviours were dealt with harshly; in December 1929, Stalin issued a call to "liquidate the "kulaks" as a class" - emphasis on "as a class" is needed, because it was not a call to eliminate the individuals themselves. [Deutscher, Isaac, "Stalin", p324, Penguin, (1966)] Policies included their deportation to remote lands in Siberia and to labour camps. There is debate amongst historians as to whether the actions of the Kulaks and their supporters helped lead to famine, or whether the policy of collectivization itself was responsible. (See Collectivisation in the USSR, Holodomor.)

In the West, the crisis of capitalism was coming to a head with the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929, and the Communist International's Sixth Congress viewed capitalism as entering a final death agony, its "third period of existence" where the first had been capitalism during its rise prior to World War I, and the second was the short period after the crushing of the post-WWI revolutions when capitalism seemed again to have stabilized.

The formal institution of the Third Period occurred at the 9th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (E.C.C.I.) in February 1928. This helped in dovetailing the "Left" of the Russian Communist Party with that of the Comintern itself.

To the Comintern, a decisive and final revolutionary upheaval was afoot and all its sections had to prepare for the immediate advent of world revolution. As part of this theory, because the Comintern felt that conditions were strong enough, it demanded that its political positions within the workers’ movement be consolidated and that all "reactionary" elements be purged. Accordingly, attacks and expulsions were launched against social democrats and moderate socialists within labor unions where the local CP had majority support, as well as Trotskyists and united front proponents. The CPSU also encouraged armed rebellion in China, Germany, and elsewhere.Fact|date=March 2007

Although shortcomings and crippling ideological vacillations brought this Period to an end, the tone of the "Third Period" resonated powerfully with the mood of many militant workers of the time, especially following the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the ensuing crises of the 1930s. In many countries, including the United States, local Communist Parties' membership and influence grew as a result of the "Third Period" policies. [This section is adopted in part from a public domain article by David Walters for the [ Marxists Internet Archive] 's Encyclopedia of Marxism.]

See also

Third Period trade union umbrellas:
*Workers' Unity League (Canada)
*Trade Union Unity League (United States)


Further reading

* Nicholas N. Kozlov, Eric D. Weitz "Reflections on the Origins of the 'Third Period': Bukharin, the Comintern, and the Political Economy of Weimar Germany" "Journal of Contemporary History", Vol. 24, No. 3 (Jul., 1989), pp. 387-410 [ JSTOR]

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