Béla Kun

The Enemies of the United Front in the Second International

Source: From International Press Correspondence, Volume 15, no 23, 1 June 1935. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The chairmanship of the Second International has fallen vacant. Emile Vandervelde, [1] the Chairman of the SLI, [2] has again been invited by the King of the Belgians to occupy a Cabinet seat and therefore automatically ceased to be Chairman of the Second International. This is a result of a past decision of the Second International, according to which the Chairman of the International must relinquish his position if he accepts a Cabinet position in his own country. Vandervelde, as Socialist Minister, having become a Socialist on furlough, another leader of the Belgian Socialists, M De Brouckčre, [3] has temporarily undertaken to exercise the functions of a Chairman of the International.

A struggle for the chairmanship of the Second International is now beginning between the Socialist parties. But the struggle is fought for more than this post which, in the eyes of most Socialist leaders, is in itself much less important than a Cabinet portfolio in a bourgeois government. The struggle has another objective: the bitterest, most irreconcilable enemies of the united front of the working class in the Socialist leadership want to utilise the change in the chairmanship of the Second International for another attack on the united front, on the theory and practice of cooperation between Socialists and Communists.

Certainly Vandervelde cannot be accused of any enthusiasm in respect of the proletarian united front on the national or international scale; and yet the Socialist leaders of the Scandinavian countries, of Holland and of Great Britain reproached him with having a somewhat conciliatory attitude towards the united action of the proletariat. This reproach was based chiefly on the fact that Vandervelde and Friedrich Adler [4] had in November 1934 taken up a mediatory attitude midway between the Socialist leaders who rejected the united front from the first and those others who, under the pressure of the masses, were compelled to accept it.

The majority of the reactionary leaders in the Socialist parties now want to make use of the resignation of Vandervelde and to put into the chair of the International a President irreconcilably opposed to any attempts at disturbing the cooperation of the Socialists with the bourgeoisie by coming to terms with the Communist Parties and carrying on the struggle together with them. Naturally the struggle round the chairmanship is carried on behind the scenes in order to prevent the Socialist rank and file from seeing what the real backgrounds of this struggle are.

The ‘big-time’ Socialist press passes the struggle over in complete silence, but some details are ventilated – certainly not by chance – in the provincial Socialist newspapers.

Thus, for instance, the Ny Tid, Socialist paper published in Göteborg and mouthpiece of Per Albin Hansson, [5] Cabinet Minister in Sweden, discusses on 21 April, in an editorial article, the question of who is to succeed Vandervelde as Chairman of the Second International.

The editorial says that De Brouckčre will not accept a nomination for the chairmanship even if he were sure that he would be elected by a unanimous vote. Another nominee must therefore be sought for. Mr Hansson, Socialist and Cabinet Minister, lays down certain principles which are to govern the choice of the future chairman of the International.

In the first instance the bankrupt leaders of the Austrian, German and Italian Socialist parties are to be excluded from the list of possible candidates. The editorial, with an obvious side-cut at Friedrich Adler, Secretary of the Second International and an exile from Austria, says:

We must be quite clear on the point that only men from democratic countries, with legal Socialist parties, can be considered. There are many good brains, many representative Socialists in the émigré parties, but it would be out of place for the Chairman of the International to be so hampered in political matters and so cramped in his work as are the Socialist émigrés. It is a condition sine qua non [6] for the exercising of his functions that he should be a citizen of a democratic country.

So this is the much-praised solidarity of the Socialist leaders in the democratic countries with the Socialists of the Fascist countries who are thus simply relegated to the back seat.

The Scandinavian Socialist parties, which now all become governmental parties in their own countries, consider even an English Socialist as unsuitable to occupy the post of Chairman of the Second International. In regard to a nominee of the British Labour Party, the editorial states:

Our British friends are in the first place and for quite natural reasons interested mainly in the issues of their home policy and have very little leisure left for the international working-class movement and its problems.

The pressure of the masses on the leaders of the British Labour Party is on the increase. The Scandinavian Socialist leaders do not consider a British candidate a sufficiently sure safeguard against the eventuality, that under the pressure of the masses a group in the British Labour Party might come out in favour of the proletarian united front; they are afraid that such a group might in its turn influence the British nominee to a certain extent. So they relegate their British colleagues to the national problems and reject, though in a polite form, the candidature of an Englishman.

The French Socialists fare very badly indeed in this discussion of the possible nominees for the chairmanship of the International. The Swedish Minister makes short work of them in his newspaper:

The French Socialist Party is out of the question for the choice of a chairman. Our French friends have by their united front tactics to a certain extent departed from the way followed by the Socialist parties in the democratic countries. The choice of a Frenchman would on the outside show a partiality for Communism and for Moscow [!] that the majority of the parties of the International could on no account accept. A French Socialist as nominee would certainly not create anything like unity in the leading bodies of the International. We are quite convinced that the Frenchmen are sufficiently aware of the situation and have no intention of putting forward any claims.

We think that this attitude of the Swedish Socialist leaders expresses not only their hatred of the united front but also their opposition to the line of French foreign policy. In contrast to the foreign policy of the French government, which provides for cooperation with the Soviet Union on certain issues, and which the leaders of the French Socialist Party were beginning willy-nilly to accept, the three Scandinavian Socialist governments pursue a policy tantamount to a direct support for the war-mongering policy of Hitler Germany.

The editorial quoted above modestly rejects the candidature of a Scandinavian Socialist for the chairmanship of the Second International, and finally finds the suitable nominee, whom it introduces in the following terms:

Thus only one name is left, but a strong name: that of JW Albarda, [7] a Dutchman... He represents a democratic party in a democratic country. His political views very closely approach the views of the Scandinavian Socialist Parties. For many years he has followed and studied the problems of international policy... He is, in addition, a man of weight and strength. If De Brouckčre persists in his refusal, Albarda is the most suitable of all those who are eligible for the chairmanship of the International, which is of especially great importance at the present time.

Who is JW Albarda? Certainly an old Socialist – there is no doubt of that. He is one of the founders of Dutch Socialism. He has in common with Vandervelde that he too cannot imagine democracy in any other form than with a king or queen at its head. This opinion he expressed quite openly when the Dutch Socialist Party revised its programme. But he differs from Vandervelde on one point – in contradistinction to the latter he is not willing to manoeuvre on the question whether the Socialists are to form a united front with the bourgeoisie or a united front with the Communists. He undisguisedly opposes the united front of the working class. Last year, when the Communist International made a united front offer to the Second International for the support of the Spanish workers, Albarda frankly declared that should this offer be accepted, the question of a split in the Second International would be raised. On 16 October 1934, he wrote in Het Volk, the official mouthpiece of the Dutch Socialist Party, under the heading ‘The Prospects of the United Front – A Serious Trial for the SLI’: ‘The dangers threatening democracy increase when in a democratic country the Socialists ally themselves to the Communists.’

He further said at the time that ‘the negotiations’ (that is, between Vandervelde and Adler on the one hand and Cachin and Thorez [8] on the other) ‘were undesirable’, and that conflicts have arisen on these grounds within the Second International. He then went on:

Such conflicts need not in every case lead to a split in the SLI... It is not impossible that the Executive of the SLI rescinds the decision of 7 March 1933, a decision which has already been set aside by the French party and the Italian émigré party. In that case each party would be at liberty to cooperate with the Communists at its discretion. The SLI would remain united. How long it would remain so is for experience to show.

Thus Albarda belongs to that group of leaders in the Second International which cannot accept a decision of the SLI Executive that would leave the Socialist parties at liberty to form a united front with the Communists or to refuse such a united front. Albarda is one of those who with all their ‘weight and strength’ pursue the aim of preventing a united front of Socialists with the revolutionary workers led by the Communist Parties. He is one of those Socialist leaders who are of the opinion that it is untenable for a Socialist Party in one country that in another country another section of the SLI – for instance, the French or Italian section – should form a united front of action with the Communists on a national scale.

The rejection of the united front offer made to the SLI for the May Day celebrations showed already that the most reactionary wing of the SLI leaders were preparing new attacks on the united front. This was shown also by the rejection of the proposals for joint May Day demonstrations by the leaders of the SLI national sections, and last, but not least, by the refusal of the French Socialists to organise the May Day demonstrations in common with the Communists. The ‘men of weight and strength’ in the Second International are doing their best to establish an international discipline hostile to the united front and having for its objective class cooperation with the bourgeoisie and rejection of proletarian united action. With JW Albarda at the top – or without him – the leaders of the Second International will attempt to start another campaign against the united front.

Who profits by these attacks on the united front: the workers or the employers? The Socialist rank and file and minor officials will have to ponder this question. The Communists will without hesitation continue their fight for united action.


Notes provided by the Marxist Internet Archive.

1. Emile Vandervelde (1866-1938) joined the Belgian Workers Party in 1886 and was its Chairman during 1928-38, a member of the wartime Belgian Cabinet, and Chairman of the Labour and Socialist International (qv) during 1929-35, and retired from that post when he became Minister of Health.

2. Sic: should be LSI, the Labour and Socialist International, the successor to the Second International, formed in 1923.

3. Louis De Brouckčre (1870-1951) was active in the socialist movement from an early age, was jailed for six months in 1898 for publishing an anti-militarist article but took a defencist stand in 1914 and joined the Belgian army, and was a member of the Belgian Senate during 1925-32.

4. Friedrich Adler (1879-1960) joined the Austrian Socialist Party in 1897, became the editor of its journal Der Kampf in 1907, and was the party’s General Secretary during 1911-14 and 1918-23. Sentenced to death for shooting the Austrian Prime Minister Count Karl von Stürgkh in Vienna in October 1916 as a protest against the First World War, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was released when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was collapsing in 1918. He was the Secretary of the Labour and Socialist International during 1923-46.

5. Per Albin Hansson (1885-1946) became Chairman of the Swedish Social Democratic Party in 1925, and was Prime Minister during 1932-36 and 1936-46, taking a neutral stand during the Second World War.

6. Sine qua non – an indispensable condition.

7. Johan Willem Albarda (1877-1957) joined the Socialist Workers Party of the Netherlands in 1898, and was a deputy in the House of Representatives during 1913-39, and leader of the party’s parliamentary fraction from 1925.

8. Marcel Cachin (1869-1958) joined the French Workers Party in 1891 and the French Socialist Party in 1905, supported the First World War, supported the Socialist Party’s admission to the Communist International, and was a leading member of the French Communist Party until his death. Maurice Thorez (1900-1964) joined the French Socialist Party in 1919 and then the French Communist Party, of which he became the General Secretary in 1930, remaining in that post until his death.