But here, Dimitrov undermined his and the Communist movement’s United Front position by giving unqualified support for the Soviet Moscow trials of former leading Bolsheviks for conspiring with German fascists and Japanese imperialists to overthrow the Soviet State.
The Socialist International and socialists in many countries, the forces with which the Comintern sought to build the organizational United Front. Without going into these trials, it is, for our time particularly, it is significant to note that Dimitrov refers to these former Bolsheviks over and over again as “terrorists” Those who support in any way these “terrorists” are aiding and abetting fascism in Spain and everywhere else.
Once more, without going into the specifics of the Moscow Trials, which the capitalist press in the U.S. called the “purge trials,” Dimitrov’s reference to them as the “trial of the terrorists” established a potentially dangerous precedent.
First, it strengthened the position of anti-Communist socialists that the Communists were doctrinaires who could not to be trusted. Second it called for an allegiance to what were internal Soviet policies on the principle that any failure to give active support to any Soviet policy would undermine anti-fascist unity.
The term “terrorist” was at the time was not widely used. It had been first used ironically in Czarist Russia against various groups who plotted the assassination of the Czar and other prominent leaders. The British had also used it against anti-imperialists using violence in India.
But, by equating the small numbers of Trotskyites who had founded the fourth International with fascists, the Comintern provided ammunition for its enemies in social democratic and left sectarian circles to argue that the Communist parties and the Soviet Union in its policies were like the fascists enemies of democracy and people’s rights.
In the U.S. for example, in response to a rightwing counter offensive against the sit down strikes which saw the formation of the House Un-American activities committee and heightened anti-labor violence in 1938, Peoples Front advocates formed the Lincoln Day Committee for Democracy and Intellectual Freedom, whose most important sponsor was Franz Boaz, the leading anti-racist anthropologist in the world. In opposition, social democratic and Trotskyite opponents of the CPUSA who had been active in the defense of the Moscow Trial defendants and led by the self styled Marxist philosopher, Sidney Hook, formed an American Committee for Cultural Freedom to fight both fascism and Communism, contending that the only way to save democratic forces in labor and in peoples movements was to remove Communists from democratic mass organizations and equate Communists with fascists as enemies of democracy.
The Committee and similar groups began in their attacks on the United Front to red-bait prominent progressives involved in People’s Front campaigns, in that sense providing grist for the mills of HUAC, various state and local HUAC’s that reactionaries established through the country, and for that matter the FBI and various local “Red Squads” (political police units aimed at the left). After World War the American Committee for Cultural Freedom became both the model and the core organization for the World Congress of Cultural Freedom, established and funded by the CIA through individuals like Sidney Hook to build a global “united front” of the center (including all anti-Communist leftists) against the left
I am not saying that this history would have been different if the Communist movement had spoken against the Moscow trials. I am not even saying that the Communist movement should have spoken against the Moscow trials. But, in developing the Peoples Front strategy, where defense of the trials served no positive purpose, it made much more sense to focus on Soviet aid to the Spanish Republic, Soviet support for collective security against fascist aggression in the League of Nations, Soviet support for workers rights and anti-imperialist movements as the reason for supporting both Soviet foreign policy globally and the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union
These policies were indispensible to the defense of working class rights, and the democratic rights of all people..
Also, while Dimitrov’s language and that of the Comintern generally was both theoretically cogent, forceful and accessible to working class people through the world, the tendency to fall into the Soviet personality cult around Joseph Stalin by referring at points to “the Great Stalin” (although the quotes from Stalin were also cogent and solid) was counterproductive.
It fed charges of Soviet domination of Communist parties, of “Stalinism” as something separate from and an evil force dominating the Communist movement, which would also be used as weapons, first against the anti-fascist people’s front, and then in the U.S. established for the anti-Communist cold war policy.