The comintern and the Western Communist Parties 1930-1949
2. The comintern and the Western Communist Parties 1930-1949 Dr. Nikolaos Papadatos- University of Geneva
3. КУТВ - КУНМЗ – МЛШ• Коммунисти́ ческий университе́т трудя́щихся Восто́ка
• Коммунистический университет национальных меньшинств
Запада имени Мархлевского
• Международная ленинская школа
• Alfred Kurella, one of the main leaders of the cultural policy of the
Comintern said: "Marxism conceives the essence of humanity as the
result of a process in which the concrete, sensual, individual and
active elements are at the same time object and subject, creator and
creature of oneself”.
When they return to their country of origin, on the one hand, they
enjoy the authority of the International. For this, they must not only
to be trained specifically but also be supervised and controlled by the
“policy of the cadres".
• For this purpose, the Soviet party develops a network of schools after
the Russian Civil War, where the communists follow the program,
either in group, either through a program of self-education,
supported by an instructor. This orientation is repeated and modified
by Stalinism. To fuel the collective effort of productivity, an immense
appeal to learn (and from 1935 to "cultivate") is launched by the
Soviet government in order to engage the soviet citizens. Meanwhile,
the cadres are gradually controlled by special educational institutions,
some of which are open to foreign communists.
the proletarian cause”, a specific model of training is proposed and
introduced by the Soviet government. The above international
schools are implementing a pedagogical educational program aiming
to analyze the purpose as much as the techniques. But, despite the
goal of universalism of the Communist International, the reality of
Soviet party is constantly reflecting a different modus operandi.
• The"purification" (чистки) of a "case" - delo - from the 1930s, the
"verification" (проверки) and the exchange of information between
the Party’s executives is also one of the available tools during the
educational process. The Communists of the 1930 must transform
themselves into "true Bolsheviks“. In order to achieve this goal, they
have to know how to improve themselves. Such a transformation
requires the implementation of introspective techniques.
international schools' rules where established but this framework was
finally institutionalized when the Stalinization of the Comintern took
• Foreign communists are distributed according to linguistic criteria.
There are many sectors: French, German, Italian, English, Greek etc.
Each school is structured according to a hierarchical and complex
organization : we have an interaction between the instances of the
school officials and those of the party and the union.
• So we find at various levels and in each sector, responsible
administrators but also student representatives. There is, moreover, a
party committee made up of management representatives,
administration, the teaching profession and the students, political
office, as well as a representative of the party (partorg) and a union
representative (proforg), appointed by their peers.
7. KYTV – the iranian exemple• The Communist University for Laborers of the East, abbreviated KUTV in
Russian, opened in Moscow in 1921—a time of heady enthusiasm in the
young Soviet state, when revolution in the East seemed a natural and
imminent sequel to the October Revolution. KUTV was the first communist
educational institution set up specifically for students from the Orient, and
by the second half of the 1920s it had developed into one of the most
important centers of Soviet Orientalism. This experimental “smithy of
cadres” not only trained eager sympathizers to become teachers and
revolutionaries in their native lands, but also sought to bring about a
paradigm shift in the study of the East by emphasizing contemporary
social and economic history through a Marxist lens and by redistributing
the tools of Orientalist scholarship to Orientals themselves.
KUTV alumni became important communist leaders and
functionaries: some, such as Hồ Chí Minh and Liu Shaoqi, even rising
to lead their countries. Although such brilliant successes were not to
be for communists in Iran, the Iranian presence at KUTV was strong
among both students and teachers, some of whom returned to Iran
to spread learning and revolution; while others, such as Ladbon
Esfandiari, Abdol-Hossein Hesabi, Abolqasem Zarreh and Avetis
Sultanzadeh, remained in the Soviet Union as scholars of Iran,
influencing the development of Soviet Orientalism through their
teaching and writing, and often serving simultaneously in the Soviet
Party resolved to organize what it called “Eastern Courses” under the
aegis of the Peoples’ Commissariat for Ethnic Affairs. These were soon
given the name KUTV, and already on 21 April of that year, another
resolution established KUTV as a separate university, open to students
from the traditional Orient regardless of nationality.
• KUTV was a hybrid educational institution, not merely a Sverdlovka for
non- Russian speakers but also a realization of the Soviet vision of Oriental
studies as a discipline engaging the eastern present through an
unashamedly politicized framework that looked beyond the traditional
focus on literary and architectural monuments of the past. Yet even within
the context of Soviet Orientalism, KUTV was conceived to be different
from other Soviet Orientalist institutions, such as the Institute of Studies
in Moscow, the Orientalist Department of the Military Academy of the Red
Army, and the institutes in Petrograd in that it was to train Orientals, and
not only to become teachers and researchers but also to work in their
home countries as propagandists and revolutionaries.
history and geography were taught, but the core curriculum
consisted of political economy, historical materialism and the
history of the Russian Bolshevik Communist Party. It was mandatory
to study the history of the East—of each student’s home country, in
particular —and “The Colonial and Ethnic Question.” Early syllabi
included the contemporary history of Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan,
with more countries added in later years.
and hunger in the Soviet Union. Students arriving from distant, warm
climates had to adapt to Moscow winters and ruinous postrevolution and post-civil war living conditions. The “university” itself
was very much a work in progress when these first students arrived,
with the curriculum still undetermined and practically no teaching
materials to help overcome the formidable language gap: not even
Russian language grammars, much less Marxist literature in eastern
languages. It was often hard even to find pencils and notebooks, so
pupils were provided with large sheets of paper that had to be cut
and sewn into notebooks.
pedagogical program were sent to various regions to organize new
departments. The Baku branch served Iranians, Azeris and Turks in the
region; the branch in Irkutsk was for students from the Far East, offering
classes in Korean; in Sterlitamak, for Bashkirians; in Petrozavodsk, for
Karelians; and in Krasnokokshaisk, for Maris. The largest branch was
founded in Tashkent: it could accommodate 140 Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Uzbek
and other students, with a separate school for another 140 female
students and several provincial schools throughout the region.
• The students combined the study of Marx with Mohammedism or
Buddhism. It was not easy to reform this multiethnic, multilingual mass
into a unified communist family, nor was it easy for the students
themselves to overcome the traditions that were a part of their daily
existence (in other words, to renounce them). At times, weapons needed
to be confiscated—daggers and Nagants (revolvers). This could be met with
desperate resistance on the students’ part. It was explained during
lectures that in our country only the Red Army and the militia have the
right to possess weapons and that the students’ prime weapon would be
Marxism–Leninism, which must be studied in order to graduate from
KUTV fully armed with Marxism.
and political apparatus in the Soviet capital and the distant East
considered so crucial to the communist project. The Iranian students
were especially active: they elected their own “Communist Bureau”
that maintained contact with the Iranian Communist Party, receiving
regular updates about life in Iran and the progress of revolutionary
movements. The bureau held general student gatherings for
information exchanges about life in the students’ home countries. In
addition to translating Soviet materials into Persian for the Iranian
press, students likewise translated summaries of Iranian newspapers
• Every year, the KUTV student body included several young Iranian
women. At the end of the first year, three out of the twenty-one
Iranian students were women. From 1925 to 1928, two female Iranian
students taught Persian in addition to their studies.
had expanded into a respected, well-equipped think tank of which the
original KUTV was only a part. By the mid-1920s, its library had amassed
almost 50,000 books and publications. In the 1930s, “textbook brigades”
worked in offices dedicated to producing educational materials. The
students arriving to study at KUTV in the 1930s were very different from
the barely literate provincials of the early 1920s. Communist parties in
eastern countries were sending their most prominent figures, Central
Committee members or leading revolutionaries. The level of scholarship
had developed immensely, thanks to the hard-fought creation of reference
materials and statistical data on the contemporary East.
• Abulqasim Zarreh, the young Tehrani intellectual who in the early 1920s, as
one of KUTV’s first students, had edited the broadsheets hanging on the
university walls, rose to the top of the academic ladder at KUTV and other
Moscow Orientalist institutions. By 1931, he was chief editor of all
translations of Marxist–Leninist literature published by KUTV.
and chair of the Persian–Afghan–Arab Department at the Moscow
Institute for Oriental Studies in 1934. Zarreh combined academic with
political and government activities, working in the cryptographic
department of the Joint State Political Directorate (OGPU) as a
linguist and expert on Iran.
• But while the university was thriving, the revolution in the East was
stalling, not least in Iran, where Reza Shah had consolidated power.
The Bulgarian revolutionary Georgi Dimitrov, who studied at KUTV in
the 1930s, commented on how the growing reaction to and
oppression of communists abroad—including Reza Shah’s
crackdowns—was affecting the university: “We are continually losing
the most valuable parts of our team in the struggle. After all, we are
not a society of scholars, but a fighting movement that’s always in
the direct line of fire. Our most energetic, bravest and self-aware
individuals are always leading the charge. And it is these whom the
Enemy hunts first—the vanguard, who are killed and thrown into
prisons or labor camps, where they are tortured”.
existence: Reza Shah’s tentative rapprochement with the Soviet Union in the
late 1920s and the growing threat of world war put revolution in Iran at odds
with more immediate foreign policy goals.
• In 1929, reports surfaced that Persian KUTV graduates, once back in Iran, did
not want to work for “low-level” organizations among the working class and
were demanding higher-ranking and well paid party posts. It was said that
some KUTV alumni had even threatened to defect to Iranian government
forces. This contributed to growing dissatisfaction with the Iranian
Communist Party in the Comintern, which in the autumn of 1929 conducted
a “careful and thorough” review of the Iranian students at KUTV. It was
determined that the Iranian “cell,” which comprised thirty-two students at
that time, had “completely degenerated” and was engaged primarily in
“exchanging a variety of harem tales.” The students were expelled and the
Iranian Communist Party was ordered to be more selective in determining
which students to send to KUTV, preferably choosing them from the working
bureaucratic restructuring occurred that signaled the beginning of the
end for KUTV. The university was divided into two independent
organizations: one retained the name KUTV, but now only students
with Soviet citizenship remained; the foreign students were
transferred from KUTV to the Academic Research Institute of Ethnic
and Colonial Problems (NII NKP), a new incarnation of the NIA NKP.
• In January and February of 1938, the purges reached the Moscow
Institute of Oriental Studies. Many of the Institute’s scholars also
taught at KUTV, and after the arrests of Zarreh, Sultanzadeh and
others, the university, now deprived of the majority of its faculty,
was obliged to shut down. Officially, the closure was attributed to the
ongoing restructuring of the educational system for future party
functionaries. At the same time, the party Central Committee and the
Comintern closed down the NII NKP as well.
24. International Lenin SchoolBetween 1926 and 1937 at least 160 British communists attended the
Communist International’s International Lenin School (ILS) in Moscow.
The aims of the school were to produce a new stratum of leading
communist party cadres, young, proletarian, disciplined, and free of the
taint of reformism. The International Lenin School (ILS) was one of the
most significant means by which the Communist International
(Comintern) sought to mould to its will the leading personnel of its
national sections. Founded as an instrument of the ‘Bolshevization’
measures introduced by the Comintern in 1924, the school opened its
doors to students in 1926 and over the next twelve years took in
perhaps 3000 communists—a precise figure remains to be
established—for intensive residential courses lasting anything from
six months to three years.
heads of government, namely Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito, Poland’s
Wladyslaw Gomulka, and the GDR’s Erich Honecker, and leaders of
significant oppositional parties in the west, such as the French Communist
Party (PCF) general secretary Waldeck Rochet. Moreover, the school
established a model of party education which for much of the communist
world proved at least as enduring.
• ILS students went on to achieve prominence as national or district trade
union officials, including the Scottish and Welsh miners’ leaders Alec
Moffat and Will Paynter, the journalists’ president Allen Hutt, and a
number of district officials of the Amalgamated Engineering Union.
Nevertheless, it is not for its wider impact on British society that the school
deserves our attention, but as perhaps the most extreme of the
Comintern’s intrusions into the history of the British left by the fashioning
in Moscow of a trained, responsive, and carefully vetted cohort of
communist, Tom Bell, warned that ‘we must have patience and not
jump into schemes that suggest we can turn out Leninists like
sausages from a machine’. Ten years later, having been appointed
director of the school’s ‘E-sector’ for English-language students, Bell
stated frankly: ‘With regard to the students, we have not had very
good results’. To assess how far, and in what respects, this was indeed
the case, we first need to consider the stated objectives against
which the school’s results can most plausibly be measured.
example of the alternative potentialities of working-class
autodidacticism and the Labour college tradition. ‘For the first time in
human history’, J. T. Murphy announced shortly after the school
opened, ‘the International working-class will have a real revolutionary university capable of training revolutionary workers for real
• Briefly summarized, the objectives Murphy set out were the
formation of a revolutionary elite; its induction into the theories of
Marxism–Leninism; its stiffening with the vigilance, discipline, and
commitment of the Bolsheviks; and the effecting by these means of
a decisive break with the rotten social-democratic traditions from
which communism was still breaking clear.
knowledge of a party elite, the school followed closely in the steps
of its unacknowledged prototype, the central party school of the
German SPD. Such institutions, described by Robert Michels as
exemplifying the oligarchical tendencies of party organization, may be
contrasted with the more inclusive and egalitarian traditions of the
Labour college movement, or even the CPGB’s initial ‘Party School’
system with its requirements that every party member pass through a
basic course and examination.
• Taught at a speed which many found exacting, students at the ILS
were given courses in working-class history, the political economy of
imperialism, Marxist theory, and the experience of proletarian
dictatorship, the latter consolidated by practical work in a Soviet
economic enterprise and probationary membership of the CPSU.
discipline both as the highest party virtue and as an indispensable
condition of attendance at the school itself. On arrival, they were then
kept in a special ‘isolation block’ and only allowed into the school’s
general living quarters once they had been approved by its ‘man- date
commission’. Breaches of conspiracy were treated with considerable
gravity. For indiscretion in divulging the purpose of one’s visit or sending
letters home by other than the school’s official channels, one would be
reported to the Comintern cadres commission and censured for any
violations of secrecy. Jock Kane, one of a Scottish communist miners’ clan,
was thus brought to book for having fourteen party associates and relatives
learn of his affairs.
• The British students and the British party as a whole were regarded
somewhat as dilettantes in such matters, and in 1931 the party’s own
Moscow representative commented resignedly that ‘the conspirative
nature of the school’ seemed ‘in some sections of our Party ... to be
more students for whom we have no further details of party activities, and
it seems likely that the school was now being used far more actively as a
direct source of recruitment into clandestine activities. Some students,
we know, were recruited to the ultra-secretive OMS school, the OMS
being responsible for the Comintern’s illegal communications.
• William Duncan, previously a London employee at the Moscow Narodny
bank had been instructed to give up open political work and was described
as one of the channels through which the British communists received
their Comintern subsidies. The best known and most sensational cases are
those of the convicted spies, Percy Glading and Douglas Springhall,
arrested in 1938 and 1943, respectively. However, in both cases several
years had passed since they had attended the school and it is not at all
clear that the ILS provided their introduction to clandestine work.
more fundamental significance as the school’s basic raison d’être.
Politically, the aim was to effect a final break with reformism, lingering
as an influence on the founding generation of communist activists, and
the ideal Lenin student was one uncontaminated by such a past. Alfred
Kurella, the German communist then overseeing the French party
schools, specifically counterposed this new ‘Leninist generation’ of party
activists with those carrying within them the residues of social
democracy or syndicalism.
• This basic purpose helps situate the Lenin School within the constantly
changing perspectives of communist politics. In one sense, it may be, and
usually is, described as an instrument for the Stalinization of the
Comintern. Recruitment criteria for the Lenin School were stringent,
precise, and theoretically mandatory. Among other provisions, the students
were required to be of working-class or peasant origin, in perfect health,
aged no more than 35, members of the party or Young Communist League
for at least a year, and proven in some form of class struggle.
unavoidable tension, if only because it was impossible to meet its
demands for significant numbers of the most promising activists while
at the same time assuaging the Comintern’s no less insistent appetite
for immediate political results at home. Inevitably, complaints are
therefore recorded of multifarious personal deficiencies precisely the
inverse of the Comintern’s own utterly unreal expectations.
• In 1931, at the height of the school’s recruitment, it identified seven
particular varieties of undesirable, including those with no political
experience, no grounding in mass work, no capacity for scientific
study, insufficient length of party membership, concealed past
allegiances ‘alien to the communist movement’, and poor or
desperate health, ‘whom the school is obliged to cure rather than
teach’. The document does not refer specifically to the CPGB, and it is
clear that all communist parties must have transgressed these rules
to some extent.
according to its own figures, British ILS students over the period
1929–34 included 91 per cent workers, with 68 per cent working in
basic industry. Though no occupational breakdown was provided, our
own figures suggest that coal mining and engineering provided by far
the largest contingents, with around one-quarter and one-fifth of the
students, respectively, while significant groups were also drawn from
among textile workers and railway men.
• By 1930, with the spread of industrial unrest to the textile areas,
there was a perceptible increase in recruitment from Lancashire,
though the West Riding by contrast seems to have provided more of a
reception area for returning students. Given that students tended to
be nominated by the districts, the role of the district organizer was
also a significant factor. For example, the emergence of the weak
party district of Birmingham as a significant line of supply in the
1930s may have reflected the influence of sympathetic functionaries
like Maurice Ferguson and Tom Roberts, both themselves products
of the school.
largely unrepresented, and that most of the students were ‘clerks and
office workers’. Also, the school set specific quotas for women
students—in 1932, for example, at least one-fifth of the forty student
places—and overall the CPGB seems to have met these requirements.
Of the 148 students whose sex we can be certain of, thirty, or just
over one-fifth were women, a figure comparing favourably with their
proportion of the party membership as a whole.
• Almost at the school’s outset, J. T. Murphy contrasted the school’s
directors, ‘accustomed to the discipline of the Russian Communist
Party’, with a student body revealing all the ‘immaturities’ of their
sponsoring parties, ‘the ghosts of the Social-Democratic past, the
Social-Democratic associations with the present, the syndicalist
students’ entry into the school, while on their departure it was not
uncommon for evaluations to refer dismissively to those ‘remnants of
petty bourgeois and labour aristocracy’ which, if not connoting
drunkenness and oversleeping, were taken to refer to malign and
resistant strains of reformism.
• Increasingly, it was hoped that a new generation would emerge
untouched by such legacies. Waldeck Rochet, a student in 1930–1, is
described by his biographer as a ‘model’ ILS cadre, untramelled by a
reformist past and adhering directly to the PCF, and in France is said
to have typified a so-called ‘Thorez generation’ of communist leaders.
In Britain, too, a similar cohort may be identified, born, like Thorez
and Waldeck Rochet, in the earliest years of the century, and typically
having had their most formative political experiences in the Young
Communist League (YCL).
like a codification of this iron law, reinforced in this case by the students’
physical removal from the base of the party and manifested in the
interdependence of training and advancement in a seamless cadres policy.
It is therefore hardly surprising that Lenin School students should have
secured immediate and dramatic advances to Communist Party leadership
positions, as happened elsewhere.
• Of 102 graduates between 1929 and 1934, only six were regarded as
having worked unsatisfactorily, while in the decade from 1929 around oneeighth of returning students spent some time on the party’s central
committee, providing twenty of its ninety-five members over that period.
There was nothing accidental about this process. Having already brought
on ‘new proletarian elements’ in 1929, the 1932 central committee was
consciously intended as a departure from its predecessors ‘in social
composition, the election of new elements who had not previously been
members of reformist parties, the introduction into the CC of a whole
series of comrades who had received political training at the ILS etc’.
just because of students’ susceptibility to other influences, either
prior or subsequent to attendance at the school, but because the
school itself provided both a general culture of and an intense
induction into the current party line. The result occasionally was a
certain rigidity when it came to fundamental changes in the
• For many European communist parties, the Lenin School’s legacy was
a lasting one. In Finland, until the 1960s at least half of the party’s
leading members had attended the school: in 1963, for example, nine
of thirteen Political Bureau members had attended the school, with
another having attended the Moscow party school in the 1950s.
general secretary in 1964. In both countries a simulacrum of the
Lenin School model was maintained for decades afterwards. In
Finland it was named the Sirola Institute after the leader of the ILS’s
Finnish sector. In France, residential courses of one to six months also
provided a ‘total school experience’ for the vast majority of national
and federal cadres. From both countries some hundreds of students
continued the trip to Moscow for residential courses, lasting anything
from four months to two years. Perhaps these did not always make
that much difference to one’s prospects within the party, but in France
they provided a Moscow-trained general secretary in the shape of
Georges Marchais until as late as 1993.
39. Conclusion• The international lenin school and the communist party of Great
Britain Situated in Moscow, and shrouded in secrecy, the International
Lenin School (ILS) was founded in 1926 as an instrument for the
“Bolshevization” of the Comintern and its national sections. Roughly
summarized from what may be the only authorized public description
of the school, the ILS’ aims were the formation of a revolutionary
elite; the induction of this elite into the disciplines of MarxismLeninism; its indoctrination with the vigilance, discipline, and
commitment of the Bolsheviks; and the making of a decisive break
with any lingering social-democratic traditions within the
communist movement. This last goal also involved the removal of an
older leadership cohort tainted by “petty bourgeois” influences and
its replacement with trained Leninist cadres drawn from the core
sections of the working class.
communists, most of whom were from European and American
communist parties. The Communist University of Toilers of the East,
another Comintern-affiliated institution, catered to the majority of
students from colonial countries. Both sets of students took courses
in working-class history, the political economy of imperialism, Marxist
theory, and the experience of proletarian dictatorship, complemented
by practical work in a Soviet economic enterprise.