Great disappointment, shifting opportunities: a glimpse into the Comintern, Western European parties and their colonial work in the Third Period

Issue: 
Spring 2020
Author(s): 

In early 1929, Robin Page Arnot and James Ford, both sponsored by the Comintern, each set out on a trip to investigate what Western European communist parties had accomplished in their campaigns on colonialism and racial inequality. Both men issued stern reports suggesting more could be done; but following these investigations a proposed European colonial conference never happened. The League Against Imperialism petered out. The International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers formed, but consistently dealt with discrimination and received limited, if any, help from European communist parties. Using Executive Committee politsecretariat documents, this article argues that the Comintern quickly abandoned an emphasis on colonial work, instead focusing on domestic campaigns when contacting these parties between 1929 and 1935. Highlighting the migration of these ideas transnationally, while offering a comparative analysis of the Executive Committee of the Communist International’s interventions into each party, this research serves as a starting point for further inquiry into why the Comintern elected to not press these European parties to do more. Was their inaction because the Comintern was always Eurocentrically-minded? Was it because Comintern leaders were only paying lip service to these concepts? Was it that the Comintern prioritized other matters, especially as the Great Depression and the rise of fascism brought new challenges to communism? This article sheds some light on these questions by exposing the way in which the Comintern instructed each party to focus on in their broader campaigns.

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