1. A Cliffite perspective
Duncan Hallas writes from a perspective of a Cliffite, i.e. as a supporter of "state capitalist" theory. He writes: “The USSR was transformed. The last remnants of what Lenin had called in 1920 ‘a workers’ state with bureaucratic deformations’ were swept away. The bureaucracy became a self-conscious ruling class. Bureaucratic state capitalism was firmly established – its ideology being, of course, ‘Socialism in One Country’.” What is the reason for such statement? Hallas has nothing better to offer us than the suppression of the NEP and suppression of the rich and the middle peasants, their freedom to trade, and the consequent rise of the Stalin faction, inside the Communist party, over the Bukharin faction. Thus, suppression of elements of capitalism and rise of Bonapartism amounts, for Hallas, to social counter-revolution, i.e. a change of a social nature of a regime! A truly unfounded point of view. Hallas is no Marxist in application of the theory of state to the USSR.
Together with the extreme left-wing course taken by the USSR in the late 1920's we see an extreme left-wing course taken by the Comintern, as in the example of Germany. However, this extreme left-wing course was coupled with Stalinism, i.e. suppression of all local initiative, total subordination to the command of the centre. Hence, the defeat of communists in Germany, in 1933 (rise of Hitler to power), and the extreme right-wing course pursued by the Comintern afterward. The name of the course is "class collaboration". Hallas writes: "the Comintern was now to be swung, by Stalin’s agents, to a position well to the right of the social democratic parties, to a position of class collaboration – precisely the position taken by the social democrats during and after the First World War and against which the founders of the Comintern had revolted. The ‘People’s Front’, systematic class collaboration with the ‘liberal’ bourgeoisie, was now the order of the day". People's Front policy was pursued in France, with the result that independent action by workers' parties, during the L. Blum government, was made impossible. People's Front policy was pursued in Spain, where Stalinism had destroyed the Spanish revolution (1931-39).
Let's note that the first instance of class collaboration on the part of Comintern we have seen in China: “in 1925 the Comintern looked to the Kuomintang, an organisation of the bourgeoisie, for revolutionary change, not to the workers’ organisations alone”. The Comintern urged the Communist Party of China to join the Kuomintang, thus leading to a virtual destruction of the Communist Party of China.
Reflecting upon the end of the Comintern, Hallas writes: "In 1919 the Comintern had stood for uncompromising working-class struggle. In 1943 it stood, and had stood for years, for systematic class collaboration with various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces, subordinating working-class interests to theirs according to the shifting requirements of Russian diplomacy."
The policy of collaboration with imperialists was pursued by Soviet leadership after WWII. This was the policy of "co-existence" of two social systems, adopted by Khruschev, in spite of the Caribbean crisis (1962), when the world was on the brink of a nuclear war. This was the policy of "detente", adopted by the leadership around Brezhnev. (Kissinger, an adviser to Nixon, was the smarter one, when he saw that the policy of detente was in the long-term to the advantage of the USA, as the economy of the USSR was stagnating and was needed to be given time to start collapsing.) This same policy of class collaboration was later adopted by Deng Xiaoping in China, in the form of "one country - two systems". This policy marks the the sliding of bureaucracy towards restoration of capitalism, and thus towards civil wars. This same policy is followed today by the government of Putin - Medvedev, when it hails the Barack Obama as the new president of the United States. In the period from the 1930-s to the present, we see how the policy of class-collaborationism weakens both the socialism and the ruling bureaucratic clique, a parasitic and necessary growth on the body of socialism. The only question is: who will go down first: either the social system in the countries which formed after the break-up of the USSR, or the bureaucratic parasites.
Thus: class collaborationism is the end of revolutionary organization. Next to class collaboration, but lower on the scale, is political prostitution, i.e. selling the services of a pseudo-left organization to one of the mafia cliques which is struggling for power and property.
Comintern stopped being a revolutionary organization. However, Hallas uses the occasion of the Tehran meeting of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill to smack on the USSR the label of being "imperialist": “In 1943 Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill came to an agreement at Teheran to repartition the world between them into the new spheres of influence. The USSR had itself joined the ranks of the imperialist powers.”
Of course, if the USSR was "state capitalist", then it may be called "imperialist". But the point is to prove the first, which we saw was a vacuous claim.
Labeling the USSR as "imperialist" allows the Cliffites to withdraw an unconditional support for the USSR at war, which Trotsky urged. In fact, most progressive people around the world did give their support to the USSR fight against fascism. For example, Charlie Chaplin spoke in 1943 urging the USA and Britain to organize the Second Front as fast as possible.
The Cliffite theory of "state capitalism in Russia" lends the support to the modern imperialism of Britain and the USA in their urge to divide up and destroy Yugoslavia, Russia, and other former "socialist" republics. In order to substantiate this point of view, let me bring a quote from "Left Russia" site, article "A Meeting", signed by A. Baumgarten:
"On 11 December 1999, at the peak of the military operation in Chechnya, members of the British parliament from the ruling party, ("left Labor" MP's Jeremy) Corbyn and (Tony) Benn introduced the following resolution (back translation to English from Russian):
The Parliament condemns the military actions of Russia in Chechnya and calls for a troop pull-out and political solution, which recognizes the right of Chechnya for self-determination. The Parliament is worried by the fact that the actions of Russia are motivated partially by the desire to control the oil and gas lines which pass through the territory of Chechnya. The Parliament is also worried by the fact that the criticism of Russia does not pay sufficient attention to the support of pacifist and anti-military groups in Russia
The resolution of the left wing of Labor party has become a signal for energetic attempts of the Trotskyist groups of Britain to create in Russia a left movement in support of Chechen separatism...Still more significant is the fact of 'special relations' between British Trotskyism with the ruling class of their country. These relations were cultivated in the course of decades in the form of 'entryism' vis-a-vis the Labor party and theoretical adaptation to the needs of the Cold war in the form of the 'state capitalism' theory, which obtained the greatest circulation in the NATO member countries, and first of all in Britain. In the first works of the founding father of this branch of Trotskyism, Tony Cliff, at the time coinciding with the start of the Cold war, we see not only a definition of the USSR as 'empire' founded upon the basis of state capitalism, but an open sympathy to the 'national liberation' movement of Bandera (a Ukrainian fascist) and 'forest brothers' in the Baltic. In the context of the Cold war, the theory of Cliff was a valuable find for imperialism. On the one hand, it preserved the appearance of revolutionary spirit, i.e. opposed the bourgeois ideology. On the other, it provided to the trade union bureaucracy a theoretical bases for convincing the workers of the NATO countries that their enemy is not a workers' and peasants' state, but a reactionary empire of state capitalists; it not only exploits its workers to a greater extent, but also denies them the rights and freedoms, including the freedom of trade union assembly, which they enjoy in the countries of "common" capitalism. If we keep in mind that it was the Socialist workers' party, whose eternal leader was Tony Cliff until his death last year, was and still is the largest Trotsky group in Britain, which has influenced the left liberal circles of the country, we can understand why it was the British Trotskyists who were at the head of the campaign to organize 'anti-military' left in Russia".
Conclusion: the Cliffites are major enemies of socialism.
2. Positive contributions of Duncan Hallas
1. Hallas shows that the the Social-Democratic parties of Europe expressed the sentiments of the masses, in their support for the imperialist war: "the ‘social patriots’, as their opponents soon came to call the social democrats who supported the war, were able to claim that, in 1914, they had the support of the mass of politically conscious workers. It was true. Trotsky noted that in Vienna ‘the patriotic enthusiasm of the masses in Austria-Hungary seemed especially surprising’." However, in the colonies,almost all supported revolutionary movements.
2. Hallas notes a progressive centralization that is characteristic in development of the Internationals: "The Second International had been a loose federation of national parties. The Third was to be a centralized world party with national sections, although the International must take into account ‘the varying conditions in which the individual parties have to fight and work". This tendency towards centralization is also true, if we extend our vision to the First International. Marx, after the fall of the Paris Commune and the fight with Bakunin, wanted to turn the International into a more centralized organization, while Bakunin wanted it to be a mere committee of correspondence.
An international equivalent of Comintern today, with an opposite sign, is NATO. This is an international organization of imperialists, originating from WWII as the joint military coordination committee of British and American imperialism. We see that the organization is centralized and militarized, with a well-developed department of propaganda (e.g. campaign of propaganda of NATO in Ukraine in 2008, see the poster below). Hence its international power and prestige. It used to be opposed by the Warsaw Pact, that which the Cominform has evolved into.
A parody of opposing capitalism we see in the movement of "Social forums". It is just as funny as an attempt to save life from a universal flood with a paper cup. Yet, attendance of these forums makes for a major agenda of most "socialist" organizations and individuals.
If communists today truly desire a victory over imperialism, they must develop an organization that will be able to fight and defeat NATO. Hence, this must be a centralized, military, political organization with an opposite political sign.
3. Hallas makes us understand that the history of the Comintern boils down to the history of the Russian Communist party: “The more the influence of the Russians [in the Comintern] was reinforced, the greater became the dependence of the international movement on the outcome of the post-revolutionary struggle for power in a backward and isolated country in which the working class itself was disintegrating". And hence, to understand the history of the Comintern means to understand the rise and fall of the party of the Bolsheviks.