THESIS ON THE BRITISH SITUATION
The following document has been referred to as one of the first documents of indigenous British Trotskyism. It is very rare indeed and neither Sam Bornstein nor Al Richardson had ever seen a copy since very few were made. This one was found in the Harvard Archives and was made available to Revolutionary History by Wes Erwin to whom we are very grateful.
This one has scribbled on the front page “This was written on the 23 Oct 1931.” There are a number of underlinings and emphases which were probably done by Albert Glotzer rather than LDT himself.
There are question marks in the following places
- In the first sentence after Democracy and Fascism.
- The prediction that the TUs in Britain will lose another 40% in the next two years.
- There are exclamation marks shortly after this with the word superstructure as applied to the Anglo-Russian Committee heavily emphasised.
The tone is more than a little ultra-left and tending to catastrophism but provides interesting evidence of the political and intellectual milieu within which Trotsky was attempting to build a movement.
Ted Crawford, July 2000
THESIS ON THE BRITISH SITUATION,
THE LEFT OPPOSITION
(Indian National Congress, London Branch.)
- The British Situation
- The Trade Unions
- The CI and the Left Opposition
- The Party
Copy to Comrade Trotsky
Copy to the International Section of Left. Opp.
THESIS ON THE BRITISH SITUATION, THE LEFT OPPOSITION AND THE CI
I. The British Situation
Great Britain is at the present time in a transitional phase between Democracy and Fascism. The present crisis is the first of a series of crises on a descending level which will drive the workers down to the starvation level; incidentally destroying Trade Unionism on its way. These successive arises will provoke the workers into successive riots which will be suppressed with increasing severity. Reformism on both the capitalist side and that of the proletariat will become discredited and a revolutionary situation will soon arise. We do not agree, however, with the implied assumption of the CPGB that a succession of unsuccessful riots will automatically lead to a successful revolution. For this latter a revolutionary party is necessary. In foreign affairs, the attempt of the American bourgeoisie to dominate the foreign market as a way of escape from its internal crisis, will both weaken British Imperialism and will also strengthen its Fascist tendencies in Great Britain. Such groups as the “New” Party of Sir O. Mosley; the “Guild of St. Michael”, etc. constitute the beginnings of Fascism. As the dictatorship of the British bourgeoisie over the circumference of the Empire weakens, the dictatorship at the centre (i.e. Britain) will tighten, Parliament, which in already a mere talking shop, will either be suppressed altogether or will become, increasingly, a mere night club, devoid of all independence and political authority. Our conclusion is that Britain is on the verge of a revolutionary situation. But that, as things are at present, the revolutionary situation will be allowed to pass for lack of an intelligent and revolutionary political leadership and `that Fascism will develop before Communism.
II. The Trade Unions
In our opinion the attempt to capture the Trade Unions as corporate institutions is theoretically absurd and practically disastrous. (We do not, of course, refer to propaganda among individual members.) Historically, the Trade Unions are Imperialistic organisations which were only made possible (at any rate as mass organisations) by the super profit extracted by British Imperialism from its colonial Empire and world market. The Trade Unions have remained true to their origins and are Imperialistic to the core. As the Labour Party is merely the political wing of the Trade Unions every argument for trying to capture the Trade Unions is equally valid for capturing the Labour Party. The Labour Party was Imperialistic in its origins. Its history could have been foreseen by an intelligent Marxist upon the basis of an examination of its social origins. The same is true of the Trade Unions. They did not “betray” the General Strike in 1926 since to use the word “betray” is equivalent to assuming that the TUC was originally a revolutionary body, which is absurd. In fact, since 1929, the Trade Unions have lost more than 40% of their membership. It is safe to predict that they will lose another 40% in the next two years. We confess to a complete inability to understand the position taken up by the Left Opposition in this connection. If it was a mistake to try and capture the Labour Party and the Anglo-Russian Committee, the political superstructure; how can it be advisable to try and capture the Trade Unions, the economic basis of the Labour Party?
The Trade Unions are bargaining institutions, which in the conditions imposed by the decline of Capitalism in Britain, can no longer bargain; Just as the Labour Party is a reformist party which is no longer able to give reforms in the political sphere. It is impossible to separate Siamese twins. One cannot destroy the Labour Party and yet capture the TUC. The economic organisations which the revolutionary dictatorship will evolve will have nothing in common with the reformist Trade Unions, just as the revolutionary party of the workers will have nothing in common with the Labour Party - political Trade Unionism, so to speak.
III. The CI and the Left Opposition
The position taken up by the Left Opposition towards the CI is confused, contradictory and, at bottom, anti-Marxist, While repudiating the position of a Fourth International, it, in actual practice, has already constituted itself as such. With an International secretariat, an International press, a membership that is in several countries superior to that of the CI (e.g. Greece, Spain, etc), it is merely playing with words to pretend that the left Opposition is not, for all practical purposes, already a Fourth International. As Marxism is, above all, a concrete dialectic it is anti-marxist to be in fact one thing and yet to pretend to be another. The CI itself has no illusions on the matter. It has acted throughout on the political aphorism that “He who is not with us in against us.” One should not be blinded by sentiment to facts. Moreover, we would remark further that it is impossible for the CI to remain indefinitely in existence if it pursues the fantastic and ridiculous policy of National Socialism in the midst of an international crisis that is permanent in character. Should it be compelled by the logic of the international crisis to change its policy, then a Fourth International with a correct policy could amalgamate with or absorb it, (the words are immaterial,) without any difficulty, but, in view of the excessive centralisation of the CI, this is unlikely to happen, particularly when we consider the ferocity of the drive against ”Trotskyism” which has expelled or crushed the nuclei which might have headed a successful revolt in the CI. The Left Opposition pursuing a correct policy would, as a Fourth International in name (as it is already in fact) supersede and absorb the CI which cannot long survive as that contradiction in terms, an International with a Nationalist policy. We wish further to observe that the policy of “permeation” advocated by the Left Opposition involves an obvious contradiction. The case of the Left Opposition is that a cast-iron bureaucracy has, in effect, destroyed all party democracy and freedom of discussion in the CI. If this is the case, how is it possible to permeate by means of criticism and inter-party propaganda, when the bureaucracy holds all the key positions and ruthlessly suppresses all discussion? Are we to suppose that the bureaucracy will abandon its vested interests when it reads the theses of the Left Opposition? And is such a supposition to be described as idealism or materialism? The actual fate of Trotsky, Rakovsky, etc, is a proof of what happens to the would-be permeator. An opposition can only flourish within the organism. When expelled it must become a new organisation or perish. The CI regards the Left Opposition as a Fourth International and will treat it accordingly.
IV. The British Party
(Note: This section should be read together with the preceding one)
The CPGB is incapable of leading a mass movement. If, in an epoch of unparalleled decline, the CPGB (whose inception in 1920 was contemporary with the beginnings of British decay) merely loses membership and influence, this shows that its leadership is hopeless. If it cannot create a mass party under these conditions, under what conditions can it create one? At present, the Party is, in fact, a close bureaucracy, and the arrest of a score of its leaders would finish it for all practical purposes. Moreover, the CPGB has no natural roots in the British working class. If Moscow were to sacrifice it to the exigencies of the construction of National Socialism, it would simply wither up and die. This may, of course, happen at any moment, with a further ”zigzag” in the policy of Stalin. We would further remark that the Left Opposition (e.g. Comrade Glotzer, of the Communist League of America) absurdly overrate the national importance of the CPGB, and its hold upon the working class. This is very slight and that little hold it has is simply due to the lack of an alternative leadership. Upon the appearance of such a leadership the CPGB would automatically dwindle into an obscure sect led by a collection of corrupt mediocrities whose Communism bears even less relation to that of Marx and Lenin than British Fascism bears to that of Mussolini. Moreover, we would remark also; that in England the Left Opposition would find itself treated as a rival international. Under whatever name, the CPGB, must be opposed. It cannot be permeated; the bureaucracy will see to that; The possibility of a successful British revolution depends upon the appearance of an alternative leadership in the immediate future: that leadership the CPGB is incapable of providing.
India at present is ripe for a revolutionary proletarian party. The feudal class is a mere hanger on of British Imperialism. Indian capitalism can only ally itself with British Imperialism and the Indian bourgeoisie, even more than the Spanish or the Chinese, is incapable of fighting out its own revolution to the point of complete independence even in the bourgeois sense of the word. The sacred Gandhi is being shown up as a sacred charlatan who is utterly impotent to solve the economic problems of the Indian masses by theosophic mumbo-jumbo. These conditions will make the Indian peasantry respond in the near future to the revolutionary Marxist leadership of the working class, which is also ripe for such a Marxist leadership on Indian problems. The theory of “Rusland uber alles” which is implicit in the Stalinist theory of Socialism in one country is, above all, unsuitable for India, which will, in the event of a successful proletarian-peasant revolution, have to face the possibility of attack from other predatory imperialistic powers who will not miss the opportunity of avidly clutching at the Indian markets. We would also observe that the destinies of India are inseparably bound up with those of the working masses of Britain. The collapse of British Imperialism in India would mean the virtual end of the British Empire as the British bourgeoisie has already recognised by the mouth of Winston Churchill. The repercussions of such an event could not fail to be world wide and would, in particular, give a tremendous impetus to the revolution in Great Britain. Once the British ruling class had lost India, it would be compelled to enter upon the ultimate phase of Dictatorship in Great Britain. For these reasons, irrespective of the reception afforded to the remaining sections of our thesis, we urge the Left Opposition to convene immediately a conference to discuss Indian problems with a view to the immediate formulation of a plan of action. A thesis by Comrade Trotsky on the Indian situation would produce a vast effect and be of enormous practical utility. Not merely are there the material consequences of a successful Indian revolution which have been mentioned, but the moral effect of the overthrow of the classical Imperialism of modern times could not fail to be tremendous. There is no rival revolutionary leadership in the field. The Indian masses, under the influence of the economic crisis and the Round Table Conferences, are disillusioned with Nationalism and Pacifism. For the first time in Indian History vast perspectives are opened up for a workers and peasants republic in India. The field is clear, the time is ripe and it is for the Left Opposition to act and supply the leadership that alone is lacking for the creation of a revolutionary situation.
In his reply to Comrade H.R. Aggarwala at a meeting of Paris secretariat, October 1931 Comrade Glotzer of the American Communist League criticised Comrade Aggarwala on the grounds that his position was not in harmony with the thesis of Lenin Left Wing Communism An Infantile Disorder. To this we reply:-
a. That as Students of dialectics we want arguments, not authorities.
b. That we agree with Comrade Trotsky in rejecting “The Roman Catholic dogma of the infallibility of the leadership” (cf. L. Trotsky. Problems of the USSR
c. That Lenin was neither God nor an infallible Pope and that we agree with the estimate of his career given in L. Trotsky's “My Life” English edition, p.392.
d. That we are living in 1932 while Comrade Lenin wrote in 1920 and that conditions differ widely from those that existed in 1920.
In conclusion, we would remark that we have throughout exercised the Marxian practice of complete frankness of criticism. The greatest evil that can befall a movement is for live discussion to be superseded by the scholasticism and verbal inspiration of epigones. If Leninism has become obscured by the epigones “Trotskyism” must be saved from the danger of a similar fate. This concludes our thesis on the British and Indian situation in relation to the Left Opposition, the CPGB and the C.I.