The Journal of Georgi Dimitrov
To accompany Walter Kendall’s article we have translated the following excerpts made by Jean-Jacques Marie, ‘Notes sur le journal (1933-1949) de Gueorgui Dimitrov, secrétaire du comintern’, published in the Cahiers du mouvement ouvrier, no 10, June 2000, pp91-8. Yet again we find ourselves in debt to the comrades of CERMTRI for permission to publish this account.
Monty Johnston reported to the Conference on the History of the British Communist Party in Manchester in January 1994 that when Dimitrov’s diaries were returned to Sofia from Moscow, his adopted son opposed their publication (Peter Fryer, ‘British Stalinists and the War, 1939-41’, Workers Press, 23 July 1994). Now for some time attempts had been made to salvage some of the reputation of the Communist parties by blaming Stalin for the ‘Third Period’ and giving Dimitrov the credit for the Popular Front (if ‘credit’ is the proper word to use for choking off one revolution, in France, and actually reversing another, in Spain). Monty Johnstone was himself still trying to emphasise Dimitrov’s part in the Comintern’s turn to the Popular Front as late as 1976 (‘Trotsky and World Revolution’, Cogito, May 1976, p10). That myth, to which more balanced observers never accorded much credit (for example, Patrick Camiller, ‘The Popular Fronts of the 1930s: A Reply to Monty Johnston’, International, Volume 3, no 3, Spring 1977, pp16-7; Charlie Van Gelderen, ‘Dimitrov: A Stooge for Stalin’, Socialist Outlook, Summer 1998), can now be laid to rest by what we print here. The consensus now is that Maurice Thorez was the originator of this turn (Kevin McDermott, ‘The History of the Comintern in the Light of New Documents’, Communist History Network Newsletter, April 1996, p3). Britain’s unlikely candidate for sainthood seems to be Harry Pollitt. However, sooner or later even Stalinism must run out of fall-back heroes.
The noisy propaganda campaign orchestrated around the Reichstag Fire Trial by Willi Münzenberg can best be followed in David Caute, The Fellow Travellers, London, 1977, pp134-5 and Stephen Koch, Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Münzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals, London, 1996, pp45-9, 55-9, 97-116. The suspicions that have long surrounded Dimitrov’s acquittal (for example, Jan Valtin, Out of the Night, New York, 1941, pp492-3; Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, Cambridge, 1948, pp308-9 n2) are dealt with particularly on pages 109-13. Tom Kemp discusses the unenviable position of German Stalinism at the time (‘The German Communist Party Under Hitler’, Workers Press, 27 and 28 October 1972).
Although it is now more than 20 years old, for background reading Fritz Tobias’ The Reichstag Fire (New York, 1964) remains indispensable.
- Dimitrov and the Nazis
HE way in which Dimitrov notes in his diary the treatment that the Nazis gave him in prison at Leipzig is interesting for what it reveals about their aims. Dimitrov’s treatment in fact suggests that even at this early date Hitler kept in reserve the possibility, even if in a very embryonic way, of a deal with the person he called the leader of ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’. Nearly every day, Dimitrov received in his cell Pravda, the Manchester Guardian, The Times and numerous other papers except Bulgarian ones, while he also received plenty of letters and telegrams as well as La Condition humaine (Man’s Estate), by Malraux, with a dedication signed by the author.
Dimitrov had a visit from his mother and sister on average once a week (19, 26 and 30 January, 7, 13 and 20 February…). On 5 February, he was visited by a correspondent of the American press in the presence of high Nazi dignitaries from the commission on the Reichstag Fire. The American correspondent asked him about his health. ‘It is not too good’, said Dimitrov: ‘How could it be otherwise since I have been a year in prison?’ The journalist asked him if he had been tortured: ‘I suffer mental tortures every day’, replied the future Secretary of the Communist International, which drew no response from the Nazis present…
On 26 February, the Gestapo chief, R Diels, came to see him in his cell and told him: ‘You will soon be leaving. You must be patient for a few more days.’ ‘And the Russian papers?’, asked Dimitrov. Diels replied in a friendly way: ‘You will soon be reading them in Moscow. A French doctor is going to go with you.’
The following morning, Diels came to wake him at five o’clock in the morning to get him on the plane which was going to take him to Königsberg and from there to Moscow. Diels told him: ‘We wish to have good relations with the Soviet Union. If this was not the case we would not be sending you to Moscow.’ Dimitrov said nothing in reply. Can we suppose he took this message more seriously than the claim that it was the international campaign in his favour which had got him released and sent to Moscow? Four high Nazi officials went with him as far as Königsberg. One of them said: ‘I hope that you will be objective and not tell filthy lies about us like the others.’ Dimitrov, who had said nothing in reply to Diels, responded with a bit of bravado: ‘I hope to return to Germany, but this time as a guest of Soviet Germany.’ ‘As long as I’m there’, replied the other, ‘that won’t happen.’ (p97)
- Dimitrov and the Communist International
A myth spread by time-servers has it that Dimitrov, from his arrival in Moscow, decided to engage in a battle to get the Communist International to abandon its ultra-left denunciations of Social Democracy as the twin of fascism, which had allowed Hitler to come to power. He is said to have had to battle to convince Stalin of his position, and, indeed, to shift Stalin from his.
His diary shows that, on the contrary, Dimitrov was in the position of a pupil who was told off by his teacher. Thus, at the time of his arrival, he thought of drafting a letter to a group of Austrian workers who had written to him on 7 December 1933 to encourage him before his trial. After the bloody crushing of the armed self-defence forces of Austrian Social Democracy (the Schützbund) by the police and the army of the Social‑Christian Chancellor Dollfuss, on 12-13 February 1934, the letter took on another dimension. Many militants from the Schützbund felt they had been abandoned by their leaders, of whom a high proportion had taken good care to flee abroad as quickly as possible. Dimitrov engaged himself in drafting an open letter aimed in particular at these militants, of whom a large number were intending to emigrate to the USSR.
In the draft of the letter, Dimitrov talked of the ‘uprising’ of the Austrian workers. Stalin telephoned him on 1 April to give him an elementary lesson in Marxism: ‘You consider the struggle in Austria as an uprising. We Bolsheviks, we have always thought of an uprising as a struggle for power. Now the aim in Austria was not the seizure of power. That is why there has been an armed resistance or an armed struggle, but not an uprising. To call that an uprising is neither scientific nor Bolshevik…’
How did Dimitrov reply to these elementary basics of Bolshevism (which, as one can see, were simplified and revised by Stalin, who himself invented this scholastic and artificial division between an ‘armed struggle’ and an ‘uprising’)? He did not waste any time in arguing with this peremptory and unjustified statement. He took it as correct, and apologised. This statement had not come from him, he was not responsible, it was other people: ‘I used the points of view of the Communist International on this question in my letter, which had been elaborated before my arrival. But these points of view are incorrect.’
And, far from arguing against this judgement, Dimitrov suggests that his good comrades in the International had found this incorrect definition in the arsenal of Social Democracy (which at that time Stalin was calling ‘the twin of fascism’), in the work of the leader of Austro‑Marxism, Otto Bauer. He murmured:
— ‘You know that Otto Bauer considered the events in Austria an armed uprising.’
— ‘Yes, today, Otto Bauer wishes to boast of having led an armed uprising.’
In short, Stalin had judged that this was not the moment to denounce the leaders of the International as the agents of ‘social‑fascism’. Dimitrov then abandoned this courageous denunciation of his comrades, and begged Stalin:
— ‘I ask you to formulate the essential corrections, and I will draft my whole letter in conformity with them.
— ‘Good’, replied Stalin, ‘I will try to do that in the coming days.’ (pp98‑9)
Of course, he did not keep his promise, and he left Dimitrov to get out of the situation by himself. But can one believe that this man, who behaves like a naughty schoolchild, who points his finger at those really responsible for his behaviour, could wage an independent struggle to persuade Stalin to change his position on anti-fascist unity?
Stalin used him to make a change of line which he judged necessary in the interests of the bureaucracy and the state which it controlled.
On 7 April 1934, Stalin called Dimitrov to a meeting at the Kremlin to discuss his plans. Dimitrov wondered why millions of European workers were loyal to the Social Democrats. Stalin gave his draft a vigorous critique, and gave him a reply intended purely for use within a party that was marked by a deep hatred of the European working class, and which in him became bureaucratic scorn.
Dimitrov carefully noted in his diary these words about the conservatism of the European workers, loyal as they were to their colonialist bourgeoisie, and about their herd instinct which subordinated them to their leaders:
The basic reason is the historic links the European masses have with bourgeois democracy. That is particularly the situation in Europe. The European countries rely on their colonies. Without them they could not exist. The workers know it and fear to lose their colonies. And in every respect they are ready to march with their own bourgeoisie. Internally, they do not agree with our anti-imperialist policy… And masses of men in millions also have a herd instinct. They only operate with their elected leaders. When they lose confidence in their leaders, they feel powerless and lost. They fear to lose their leaders, and that is why the Social Democratic workers follow their leaders, even if they are unhappy with them. They will not abandon their leaders until they find others who are good. (pp100‑1)
On 20 March 1937, Stalin put the same position to the Spanish writers Rafael Alberti and Maria‑Teresa Leon in the midst of revolution and civil war in Spain: ‘We must say to the people and to the entire world: the Spanish people are not in a favourable position to make a proletarian revolution. The previous situation and above all the international situation is not favourable.’ (pp125-6) Those who did not understand this were denounced as ‘Trotskyists’ and liquidated.
This is the perpetual Stalinist refrain, the situation is never favourable for the working class to mount an offensive. And in his revision of Bolshevism, he went so far as to say — in private, to be sure — that it was not even favourable in 1917, at the time of the October Revolution. Only the Russian workers were ready then…
On 7 November 1937, after the anniversary celebrations of the revolution, he said in front of Dimitrov:
I consider that the slogan of the transformation of an imperialist war into a civil war [during the First World War] was only valid for Russia, where the workers were linked to the peasantry and where under the conditions of Tsarism they could launch an assault on the bourgeoisie. In the European countries, this slogan was not valid in places where the workers had received certain democratic reforms to which they were attached and were not ready to embark on a civil war [in a revolution] against the bourgeoisie. The European workers must be approached in another way. (p185)
In what other way? Stalin was careful not to be precise about it, for he would not be able to say anything different from what the Social Democrats, whom he was showering with insults, were saying. Remember when judging the importance of this Stalinist revision, that the resolution, voted for by Stalin, of the Bolsheviks’ Central Committee of 10 October 1917 to decide on an armed insurrection, was a consequence of their recognition that the international situation was ripe for revolution:
The Central Committee recognises that the international situation of the Russian revolution (the mutiny of the German fleet as an extreme sign of the drive of the whole of Europe towards the world Socialist revolution…), that the military situation…, and the fact that the proletarian party has won a majority in the soviets… put an armed rising on the order of the day.
In public, Stalin always approved of this resolution and his analysis supported it. In private, he repeated what all the opponents of revolution say: the situation is not ripe and this was a premature attempt.
III. Dimitrov, Anti-Fascism and National Unity (Italy and China)
The day after the Fascist uprising of 18 July 1936 in Spain, Stalin adopted the policy of non‑intervention, and accompanied this support with a very emphatic nod to the fascists. The August 1936 issue of the journal of the Italian Communist Party in exile published a long appeal to the ‘fascists of the old guard’, to the ‘young Italian fascists’, to the ‘Blackshirts’ to apply together ‘the fascist programme of 1919’, the programme ‘of peace and liberty’ that ‘the Communist Party had made its own’! This appeal, that the Cahiers du mouvement ouvrier published in detail in their issue no 4, denounced the ‘artificial division between fascists and non-fascists’ in Italy… and in Spain — two weeks after the start of the fascist uprising! — and proposed a Popular Front in Italy to implement the fascist programme of 1919. This text is signed by Palmiro Togliatti, the General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, who was living in Moscow at the time of its publication. It was thus intended, indeed was inspired, by Stalin in person. It is quite impossible to believe that the ‘glorious anti-fascist fighter’ Dimitrov, the Secretary of the Comintern since July 1935, was unaware of the line elaborated in this text, and had not been closely associated with developing it. Stalin was not the sort of man who would fail to involve the highest public leader of the Comintern in such a political initiative. Alas! We do not know a word of the details of this and what he thought of it because the pages of his diary have been torn out — very likely by him, it would seem — between 31 January 1935 and 19 August 1936. A discreet veil can thus be drawn across this episode.
Stalin developed his policy of national unity — of which Italy offered an aborted caricature, and Spain a truncated version, since the Civil War had pushed most of the bourgeoisie into Franco’s camp — throughout the whole world. Thus, in China, he advocated an alliance between the Chinese Communists and Chiang Kai‑Shek’s Guomindang against the Japanese. The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, in which Wang Ming was the direct agent of Stalin, had given its agreement. Thus, one can understand the fury of the General Secretary when he learnt on 14 December 1936 that, two days earlier, a general close to the Chinese Communists, Chang Hsueh‑Liang, had arrested Chiang Kai‑Shek at Sian. Mad with rage, he called Dimitrov to the telephone: ‘Is what’s happening in China being done with your agreement? This is the greatest help that one could give to Japan… Why are you associating with Wang Ming? Is he a provocateur? He has asked us to send a telegram to order Chiang Kai-Shek to be killed.’ (p118) Dimitrov stammered that he knew nothing about this request, and called an urgent meeting, which condemned the action of Chang Hsueh‑Liang as harmful to the unity of the Chinese people and the anti-Japanese united front, and an encouragement to Japanese aggression. Stalin demanded that Chiang Kai-Shek, the assassin of the workers of Shanghai in April 1927, should be freed to take power at the head of the anti-Japanese struggle… when Chiang Kai‑Shek greatly preferred to struggle against the Chinese Communists, Stalin nevertheless asked him once more to march under his flag.
- Dimitrov, Stalin and the Hunt for Trotskyists
On 7 November 1937, Stalin outlined to Dimitrov and three other leaders of the Comintern his unhappiness with the resolution of the Executive Committee of the Comintern on the anti-Trotskyist campaign. He considered it an obsolete and feeble text. ‘The Trotskyists’, he said, ‘must be hounded, shot, annihilated. These are world-wide provocateurs, the worst agents of fascism.’ Now the category was extended to whoever one wished. Stalin dismissed the other leaders, and had a long private conversation with Dimitrov, saying: ‘We are probably going to arrest Stassova.’ She was a former secretary of the Soviet party’s Central Committee. Above all, he asserted: ‘Münzenberg is a Trotskyist. When he arrives he must be arrested immediately. Do your best to get him to come here.’ Münzenberg, the world-wide organiser of Stalinist propaganda, the man who staged the counter‑trial of the Reichstag Fire defendants, several peace congresses and the defence of culture, was only guilty of having some doubts about Stalin’s policies.
To justify both these decisions and the previous arrests and trials, Stalin confidentially told Dimitrov a thriller-like fantasy about plots. At each difficult moment, he said, the weakest elements of the party had recoiled, and above all they did not support collectivisation, ‘where we had to cut into the living body of the kulak’:
The weakest then turned to the foreign enemy, they have promised Ukraine to Germany, Byelorussia to the Poles, the region of Vladivostok to the Japanese. They are waiting for the war, and above all are urging the German fascists to attack the Soviet Union. Already last year, we knew certain things and we were preparing ourselves to deal with them, but we waited to learn as much as possible about them. These characters intended to act at the beginning of this year. They have not yet decided. They were preparing in July to attack the Political Bureau in the Kremlin. But they are afraid. They said to themselves: ‘Stalin is going to fire first and there will be a scandal.’ I have told our own people that they hesitate to do anything and that people are laughing at their plans. (pp130‑1)
Judging by his diary, Dimitrov swallowed without difficulty this cock-and-bull story designed above all to justify the trial of the military leaders in June 1937 and for which Stalin could not produce a single fact to substantiate. Dimitrov noted in his diary: ‘There is a lesson to be drawn for our party.’
- Dimitrov and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
On 5 September 1939, five days after the start of the Wehrmacht’s invasion of Poland, Dimitrov, in a letter to Zhdanov, emphasised the ‘exceptional difficulties’ which faced the Comintern leadership in implementing ‘the tactical positions and the political tasks of the Communist parties in the new conditions’. He asked for an urgent meeting with Stalin, who received him on the 7th, and explained to him:
The war is taking place between two groups of capitalist countries, the poor ones and the rich, for colonies, raw materials, etc, for a new division of the world, and for the domination of the world. We are neutral in respect of those countries who are having a good punch-up and weaken each other. It won’t be a bad thing if Germany undermines the situation of the richest capitalist countries, in particular England.
And taking up the analysis which the German Communists had summarised with the slogan ‘After Hitler, us!’, he added: ‘Without understanding it and unintentionally Hitler is even undermining the capitalist system.’ In this situation:
We can manoeuvre; help one side against the other, so that they will tear each other to pieces better. The non‑aggression pact helps Germany to some extent. A moment later, we will support another country… Before the war, taking into consideration the opposition between fascism and the democratic regime was entirely right. In time of war between the imperialist powers, it is no longer right. The distinction between the capitalist fascist countries and democratic countries has lost its previous meaning. War is producing a radical rupture.
As usual, Stalin did not provide the slightest evidence to explain his ‘analysis’. Was he unable to do this, or was this a deliberate refusal on the grounds that a leader who provides an explanation or a justification is a leader who feels obliged to justify himself, and thus is no longer worthy of consideration as a leader? Anti-fascism, good in time of peace, is superseded in time of war, and the slogans of the Popular Front must be abandoned. ‘The distinction between the capitalist fascist countries and democratic countries has lost its previous meaning.’ Thus the Communists must fight against their own governments, against the war.
Poland — that’s a fascist country: ‘In the present conditions, the destruction of this state means that there is one less bourgeois fascist state!’ (pp180-2) And Stalin demanded the publication of Comintern theses stating that the imperialist states are fighting amongst themselves for their imperialist interests. He defined the line — to pronounce resolutely against the war and its instigators, and to struggle for peace. He then demanded that the Comintern conduct a campaign which contradicted his wish for a long war where the two sides would tear themselves to pieces. Directives adopted two days later ordered all the Communist parties to intervene against the war, to reveal its imperialist character, to vote against war credits, to tell the masses that the war will give them nothing but suffering and ruin, and to tell the Communist parties ‘who were operating in contradiction to these positions, in particular those of France, England the United States and Belgium, immediately to correct their political line’ (pp180-2).