R. Palme Dutt

Trotsky and His English Critics [1]

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. VIII, No. 4, April 1926.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

NO one would guess from reading the reviews of Trotsky’s book that it is a serious piece of work. However, it is. From the reviews the book might be considered to consist mainly of brilliant wit, revolutionary romance from a Russian who has never ventured beyond the borders of Russia, and malicious personalities. Actually the book is an objective estimate of the English situation, rapid, but carried out with a sure hand; and the polemic is strictly subordinate to the objective argument.

A word must be said at the outset on the common plea that Trotsky “knows nothing of England” (the threadbare escape of every single reformist reviewer to avoid having to meet Trotsky’s merciless argument). It would be more true to say that his critics know nothing of England—a charge that could be substantiated by every single statement of the reformist school for the past fifty years. Trotsky himself points out that

For decades the “leaders” of the British working class considered that an independent Labour Party was the mournful privilege of continental Europe. Not a trace is left to-day of that naive and doltish self-conceit. The proletariat has forced the trade unions to create an independent party. But the matter will not rest there. The Liberal and semi-Liberal leaders of the Labour Party still think that the social revolution is the mournful privilege of the European continent. And their backwardness will be revealed by events.

In fact, Trotsky is able justly to claim and substantiate that “we Marxians understand the tempo of development of the British Labour Movement and foresee its morrow much better than do the present ‘theoreticians’ of the Labour Party. The call of the ancient philosophy to ‘know thyself’ has not rung in their ears.”

This self-ignorance of the reformist idealist school, which is so naively exposed in their reviews of Trotsky and their “British” repudiations of his “Russian” standpoint, can be illustrated in a very simple form. A challenge may safely be issued to the critics to name a single book by a single English author or politician, bourgeois or labour leader, which is as close to the essentials of the English situation as Trotsky’s book. It cannot be done. And yet Trotsky is admittedly a busy man, for whom the English situation is only one factor in a complex of problems; his sketch could obviously be improved and amplified by fuller study, knowledge, contact, &c.; these English authors have abundance of time (for their narrow horizon England is usually the world), copious information, contact on the spot and all the rest of it. Nevertheless there is none. And why not? The reason goes to the heart of the English situation. The expressions and books produced in England about English questions are all marked by the same subjective unscientific character, the same insular ignorance and unconsciousness (My Ideals for Labour, Ethics of Empire, England’s Awakening, The Future of Citizenship, Creative Socialism, and all the rest of the dreary crew). In other words they are all “idealist,” that is, unable to deal with the facts of the social process in their actual movement, unable to think dialectically. There is no social scientific, i.e. Marxist, school in England yet; a fact which reflects the immaturity of the working class movement and the overpowering weight of the past bourgeois tradition. As Trotsky points out, the same conditions which gave England priority in the past make for backwardness in every sphere to-day. English Capitalism was the pioneer in the past, empirically finding out a way. This fact has stamped a deeply empirical character on English thought, and a contempt for all non-English thought and methods. To-day this traditional outlook has been inherited by the English labour leaders from the bourgeoisie just at a time when its foundation in fact has completely disappeared, and when England most needs to learn from the development of world scientific thought.

The notion that Trotsky is unfit to write on England because he is not an Englishman is a piece of abysmal national ignorance and self-conceit. It would be as sensible to argue that Marx could not write on “Capital” because he was not a capitalist. In point of fact, the best view of cheesemites at the end of a microscope is not necessarily at the cheesemites’ end. When the critics proudly put Trotsky right on some irrelevant point of detail (and in nine cases out of ten they are wrong even in their facts, and merely misunderstanding Trotsky’s point),[2] they are only giving a measure of their own smallness. In short, the cheesemites are showing that they are cheesemites. Certainly the scientific handling needs, when we are concerned with the living problems of the class struggle, to be carried beyond a treatment of principles, and to be realised, elaborated and worked out in closest relation to the fullest living information, experience and action. But to imagine that the important thing is the possession of details of local information (which fifty million Englishmen have had for a generation without being any the wiser), and not the scientific handling, is childishness.

With this prelude we may come to Trotsky’s analysis of the English situation.

Trotsky argues that England has reached a turning point at which no further capitalist development is possible, and the only path forward is along the lines of Socialist reorganisation. This conception needs understanding correctly, as it is the basis of the whole argument. The decline of English Capitalism dates back for forty years, since the development of the more scientifically, organised German and later American industry, and was already; diagnosed by Engels in its main lines in 1885. This decline was partially veiled by the Imperialist expansion of the past forty years, which was in reality accelerating the decline, although giving an artificial appearance of prosperity. It is only the war and the post war period that has carried forward the whole process at a tremendous pace, and now laid bare to all the point of open decline reached and the emergence of new world forces. American industrial and financial preponderance, which grows more exacting and dominating each year; the centrifugal forces of the Empire and growth of the Dominions to an independent capitalist policy; the revolutionising and struggle to independence of the colonial and semi-colonial nations, which afforded the indispensable basis of English capitalist industry and exploitation; the loss of strategic immunity and sea power; the strangling weight of debt, inflated capital, and long continued accumulation; the historic disorganisation of industry and failure of development: all these are factors not affected by unbased hopes of a possible “revival of trade” (as if it were only a question of the ups and downs of “normal” capitalism); they are contradictions which no capitalist statesman can solve, because the economic reorganisation which alone can solve them, cannot be accomplished without cutting across the whole historic tangle of private property interests and legal rights which stand in the way. This is why only a revolution can solve the English situation: a legal transformation is not in practice possible, because the whole existing legal state framework and machine is in practice bound up with the maintenance of existing property rights.

What is the character of this revolution? It is here that comes the second essential point of Trotsky’s argument. A political revolution is the necessary preliminary of carrying out the economic reorganisation. This point is the key to Trotsky’s book: for the first point—the basic necessity of a unitary economic reorganisation on the lines of the social organisation of production—is beginning in varying degrees to be understood. But the economic reorganisation cannot take place so long as power is in the hands of the capitalist class; since the capitalist class will not carry out their own extinction. The economic reorganisation can only be carried out when power is in the hands of the working class, whose existence and future is bound up with the social organisation of production. The revolutionary conception is commonly treated in the vulgar bourgeois and reformist writers as the conception of a “sudden” transition to a socialist economy. This of course is nonsense, as the transition to a full socialist economy is a heavy process, involving many stages. But the reorganisation cannot begin until class power is changed: this is the essence of the revolutionary conception. Trotsky shows how the bourgeois political revolution of the seventeenth century (itself the outcome of the gradual rise of the bourgeoisie within the preceding state) was the necessary preliminary of the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century and the consequent full flourishing of capitalism. In the same way the working class has to win power into its own hands now. This is not accomplished by the sham of a “Socialist” ministry within the existing system, which in itself is no more than a cover for capitalist power. The actual transference means that the working class apparatus has to become the ruling apparatus throughout the country. This involves the certainty of struggle and civil war with the existing ruling capitalist class, which has already shown, by its action all over the world that it will use all its resources to maintain itself by every means without limit. In comparison with the certainty of this struggle, for which the working class must prepare, the question of parliamentary right in relation to it is absolutely secondary, and; if allowed to occupy the foreground, even to the extent of hoping to avoid the struggle, is a deluding and disarming of the workers and a guaranteeing of capitalist armed power.

This brings us to the third stage in Trotsky’s argument—the working class movement in England, and its readiness for the future struggle. This is the central issue of the whole argument. A revolution that involves an actual transference of class power cannot be carried out by the working class without absolute clearness and determination of leadership, freedom from dependence on bourgeois ideology, and strong central organisation—in other words, a revolutionary mass party, leading the workers to the struggle for proletarian dictatorship. These conditions do not yet exist in the English working class, and this weakness in the subjective readiness of the workers is the retarding fact in the development of the English situation. What is the explanation of this, and what is the line of development? What are the traditions and forces that stand in the way? Here Trotsky brings to bear all his wealth of polemical power and analysis to shatter the existing confusion, cant and humbug of the ruling leadership and ideology in the existing Labour Movement, and to show the workers the plain path forward.

The existing leadership in the Labour Movement is the inheritor of the Liberal, that is of the bourgeois tradition from the time of secure capitalist supremacy. All its outlook is bounded by the capitalist framework, by the permitted legal forms of parliamentary and trade union activity. All its beliefs are the echo of capitalism; of the bourgeois national tradition, of Protestant Christianity, of the sanctity of the Empire, of the sinfulness of revolution, of the necessity of very gradual change, of the unity of classes and all the other cults which Capitalism has laboured to instil into the workers. The more conscious elements of this leadership, the Right Wing, work in direct co-operation with the capitalists. The more confused elements, the centre and so-called left, combine occasional verbal hankerings after socialism, with subordination in practice to the same policy and ideology, Repeated episodes show that the basic ideology of all is the same (Trotsky groups it collectively as Fabianism), and that the differences are still only differences of sentiment and phrase, of responsibility in the governmental sense and irresponsibility.

But this leadership is in complete conflict with the whole existing development of events, and with the development of the working class. Capitalism is no longer ascending, but descending; and there is therefore no longer any room for Liberalism. The capitalist class can no longer make concessions, but must cut the conditions of the workers; in consequence is no longer driven in a progressive direction by the fear of revolution, but in the opposite; develops increasingly to Conservatism, to police repression, to Fascism. On the other hand the workers are driven to more and more revolutionary struggle; first to maintain their conditions, and then, as this becomes more and more visibly impossible in the existing capitalist situation, to the political struggle for power. The revolutionary pressure of the workers throws up into existence the Labour Party against all the opposition of the old Liberal leaders. But the Labour Party is only a stage in the process. As certainly, the workers will throw off the old Liberal leadership, and find revolutionary leadership. And the form of this process will be the transition from the leadership of the Independent Labour Party to the leadership of the Communist Party.

This struggle for emancipation demands a break with the old traditions that still tie the workers to the leading strings of the bourgeoisie. Therefore Trotsky delivers the full force of his assault on these traditions; and this assault is an essential part of the attack on capitalism in England. These traditions or conceptions to which Trotsky returns again and again, may be summed up under four heads: (1) Religion; (2) Pacifism; (3) Parliamentary Democracy; and (4) Gradualism. All these, when analysed, reduce in the end to one thing: submission to the ruling class.

The attack on Religion has been widely misunderstood. Protestant religion has been the principal form in England for the transmission of bourgeois influence to the working class. Religion seeks to blur all class distinctions in a fictitious spiritual “brotherhood” alongside actual material relations of inequality and exploitation, and has therefore been the invariable weapon of an exploiting class. Religion is the negation of science, and therefore enslaves the mind, destroying mental clearness and honesty, and replacing revolutionary realism by illusion, fables and aspirations. For this reason the revolutionary working-class movement, fighting on a scientific basis, necessarily combats Religion, not only as an organised social force, but also as an individual ideology.

Nothing more completely exposes the mental stage of development of the Fabian Socialists than the universal disapproval and disagreement that Trotsky’s attack on Religion in the Labour Movement has aroused. It is not merely that such an attack is repudiated by every reformist critic (even Russell the philosopher, while agreeing with the attack on “organised religion,” comes out with the old vicious social democratic distinction that “personal religion is a private matter”—without seeing that this is precisely what Trotsky is attacking). It is that Trotsky’s attack has actually to be “explained away” by the solemn statement that he, Trotsky (with his abundant West European and American experience) can only be thinking of—the Old Russian Orthodox Eastern Church! This is a truly comic failure of Malvolio to recognise himself. Every page of Trotsky’s book shows that he is thinking precisely of that ethical Protestant, Puritan, musty, dusty hymn-singing Christianity which was the basis of the old Liberal Party yesterday and of the upper sections of the Labour Movement to-day, and which, despite all its sham “democratic” pretensions, has always been the sheet-anchor of the Lloyd Georges and MacDonalds and all that is canting and reactionary in politics for the degradation of the workers and their enslavement. Nevertheless Brailsford, who ought to know enough at least of the facts of Marxism to know better, comes out with this foolish, fable—which is solemnly repeated after him by all the scribes-and goes on to talk of Trotsky’s failure to understand the “free” and “democratic” traditions of “English religion”: “Would Trotsky’s conviction that Protestant religion is necessarily a ‘bourgeois’ creed which no worker can honestly profess (what a pitiful and disingenuous parody of Trotsky’s argument! Plenty of workers have ‘honestly professed’ Liberalism, which was none the less a bourgeois creed) survive a visit to a dissenting chapel in a mining district?” To which the answer is that precisely in the mining districts the principal battle has notoriously been in case after case between Religious Revivalism with its ally Spiritualism on the one hand and the Revolution and Communism on the other. [3]

What of Pacifism and Capitalist Democracy? Both are, on analysis, hypocritical forms of submission to the ruling class. Pacifism soon becomes entangled in an impossible network of distinctions between permissible and impermissible force, which in practice bases itself on one simple criterion—the bourgeois criminal code. In grosser forms (MacDonald, Ponsonby, etc.) Pacifism supports the armed forces of the Capitalist State and imperialist repression, the guns, tanks and cruisers of the bloody capitalist order; and only preaches submission and non-resistance to the workers and subject peoples. In subtler, more refined forms, the ugly contrast is veiled beneath phrases of centrist irresponsibility (“against all force”), but the practical basis remains the police Capitalist State. The same is true of Capitalist Democracy. It is soon found that there is very little democracy in Capitalist Democracy; and that the preaching of submission to Capitalist Democracy means, not submission to the ideal principle of democracy (in that case, the House of Commons, which legislates for 400 millions on a basis of one elector to eight colonial slaves, would have no claim to authority) but submission to the existing legal apparatus of the bourgeoisie, and the obedient attempt to pass through whatever “asses’ gate” the bourgeoisie choose to set as the only permitted path to proletarian freedom. Pacificism and Capitalist Democracy are in fact fine phrases which mean in reality the slavery of the working class.

“Gradualism” is subjected to a no less severe analysis. It is not difficult to see that “gradualism,” as soon as it is examined, disappears into a phrase meaning nothing at all save that progress must be slow, i.e. a catchphrase for the maintenance of the existing order. Its bombastic pseudo-scientific pretensions have no foundation either in fact, experience or in real science. It is an arbitrary and illegitimate jump from the conception of Evolution, i.e. of development, which is the basis of scientific thinking, to the conception that Evolution contains no leaps or conflicts, which is contrary to all the facts of nature and experience. The whole opposition of “Evolution” and “Revolution” is childish and meaningless. “Evolution” leads to “Revolution,” and “Revolution” is a part of “Evolution.” Trotsky has no difficulty in showing that even in the plant and animal world (from which the obsolete MacDonald type of preachers profess to draw their social wisdom!) the accumulation of gradual changes leads up to the necessity of sharp transformation or conflict: the butterfly bursts forth from the chrysalis; the chicken has to smash the prison of its egg. Much more so in the social world of human development, where the factors are so much more complex as to render biological metaphors worthless child’s-play, and where the consciousness of men enters in as direct agents of the social process, this conscious rôle being expressed in the conflict of classes. But in fact to argue with these preachers in scientific terms is waste of time. Their arguments are not seriously meant save as a hypocritical cover for conservatism. The Baldwins and MacDonalds never think of using “gradual” and “persuasive” means when it comes to the tasks of imperialist repression. Guns, tanks and air-bombing are then their forms of “gradualism.” It is only to the working class that they preach “gradualism,” i.e. to put a brake on their advance.

Finally, what of the subtler arguments which profess to recognise the possibility of struggle and civil war with the bourgeoisie, but urge the necessity to exploit to the full the possibilities of parliamentary democracy, the desirability of fighting with the legal right of a parliamentary majority on the workers’ side, and so forth? Here again the same double-dealing is visible. Communism has always advocated the fullest exploitation of the possibilities of parliament, but not as a substitute for the inevitable real struggle; if it is once advocated as a substitute for the real struggle, it becomes only an instrument of enslavement. Is the “recognition” of the possibility of civil war serious, or is it only a counter in an argument? If it is said that it is serious, then all the acts and daily propaganda of its spokesmen belie it.

The heroic promises of lightning-dealing opposition in the event of the Conservatives “daring,” and so on, are not worth a brass farthing. One cannot sing lullabies to the masses day after day, full of gabble about a pacific, painless, law-abiding parliamentary democratic transfer to Socialism, and then, at the first serious blow received on the nose, to arouse the masses to armed resistance. That is the surest way of assisting in reaction’s break-up of the proletariat.

In burning words Trotsky describes how a real revolutionary situation arises, with how little regard for the niceties and forms of parliamentary right (how would these heroes act, if the Fascist attack were to develop on the working class movement, as in Italy, before any Parliamentary majority or Labour Government?) and throwing the responsibilities of action and of facing armed force on the leaders of the working class movement. The “passive” general strike inevitably gives rise to the necessity to protect it from guerilla attacks, saboteurs and provocateurs. The smaller conflicts inevitably extend to larger ones. The Government, once threatened, inevitably brings the armed troops into play. The coming over of the wavering troops inevitably depends on the determination of the revolutionary leaders and the direct attack on the “loyal” troops. The fate of the proletariat, the difference between victory and the scorpions of reaction let loose after defeat, depends on the political and organising preparations of the working class forces, and on the determination and strategy of the leaders, and not at all save in the most secondary degree on the legal and formal parliamentary and other “rights”—which will be covered at once in a cloud of arguments and counter-arguments, as in wartime, so soon as the fight begins (“the attempt of the Conservatives on the House of Commons would be one of the ‘noble’ motives for agitation, but this is in the ultimate a circumstance of third and fifth-rate importance”—and in addition the choice for this may not lie with the workers).

The more procrastinating, vacillating and compromising the policy of the leaders of the general strike, the less wavering will there be in the soldiers’ ranks, the more determinedly will they support the existing authority, and the more chances will the latter have of coming out victors from the crisis, in order afterwards to let loose all the scorpions of bloody repression on the heads of the working class.

In the revolutionary struggle only the greatest determination is of avail to strike the arms out of the hands of reaction, to limit the period of civil war, and to lessen the number of its victims. If this course be not taken, it is better not to take to arms at all. If arms are not resorted to, it is impossible to organise a general strike; if the general strike is renounced, there can be no thought of any serious struggle. Then there remains only to educate the workers in the spirit of complete prostration, which the official school directing the party, the clergy of all the churches, and . . . the socialistic proclaimers of the impermissibility of violence already do.

These words deserve to be burnt into the consciousness of every centre of the working class movement. They represent the kernel of the situation for the future in England, as in every Capitalist State, whatever the momentary liberal forms and phrases.

The treatment of this question of revolutionary and bourgeois force by the reviewers is deeply significant. Every reviewer combines to oppose Trotsky’s argument: that is, to advocate unchallenged submission to the supremacy of bourgeois force and acceptance of only such methods of agitation as are permitted by the bourgeoisie. But the arguments of every reviewer are different, contradictory and in reality nothing but a catchword repetition of exactly the threadbare formulas Trotsky has been patiently pulling to pieces, without the slightest attempt to meet Trotsky’s argument.

The arguments (if they can be so called) need only to be set out together to see their general character.

(a) Force is useless. “In the long run force accomplishes nothing” (Hunter). “The final word about violence is that this has been the weapon all through the ages, and we are as we were” (Lansbury). These confused “Tolstoyan” arguments bear no relation to the policy of the leadership of the Labour Party, who believe in and use imperialist force, and are therefore irrelevant. To use these arguments in defence of the policy of the existing leaders of the Labour Party against the policy of Trotsky is indefensible.
(b) Force is nasty. This is the argument of the Editor of the Daily Herald. Under the title “Two views of Life in Conflict” he quotes a phrase of Trotsky concerning Cromwell, about the right of a historic mission to cut through all obstacles and triumphantly affirms the “breakdown” of this argument because Mussolini and British Imperialism also believe in their “historic mission.” Certainly they do, and this is precisely why their force can only be met by force, and the talk of arguing them out of their positions (let Fyfe try converting Mussolini) is transparent makebelieve, and evading the issue of repressive force confronting the working class. Fyfe rejects this as a “gloomy view.” He prefers to set against it the “hope of persuading people that Force is futile,” etc. In other words, he puts his “hopes,” wishes; personal feelings in front of the facts that he himself admits, because the latter are “gloomy.” This is Illusionism. (In addition it is of course as indefensible as the first as a defence of official Labour policy, which accepts bourgeois force and only opposes working class force.)
(c) Force is unnecessary. “The battle for freedom is not yet lost. . . . Not only in Parliament, but in churches, trade unions and clubs, this respect for the majority has been inculcated on generations of Englishmen” (Brailsford). “Our traditions and training in majority rule” (Johnston). Here the wish is father to the thought. This is nowhere more curiously illustrated than in Brailsford’s own introduction, where he is so eager to reaffirm the existence of English “freedom” after the “nightmare” of the Communist trial, that he actually declares that, if Trotsky’s book is successfully issued in England and permitted to be discussed, “then for the moment at least the nightmare of this trial is dissipated.” Unfortunately the twelve remain in prison; Hicks remains Home Secretary; the O.M.S. and Special Police recruiting go on; the intentions of the Conservatives are open. But for Brailsford all these mere facts are “dissipated,” because a book is issued and he has written an introduction. The “dissipation” is in Brailsford’s own mind. Once again, in all this “democratic” view, “hopes” are put forward instead of facing facts.
(d) We will fight if . . . etc. These are the “heroic promises” dealt with by Trotsky in the quotation already given, as “not worth a brass farthing.” These promises are actually trotted out again by Brailsford, Johnston and others in exactly the same form as before without the slightest attempt to meet Trotsky’s destructive arguments: that such promises are practically valueless without previous preparation, that the bourgeoisie will not necessarily allow the proletariat free choice of a strategic ground before attacking, etc.
(e) We can’t fight because . . . etc. This is an alternative line of argument favoured by Johnston, Russell and others. The “because” always brings up some purely technical reason. for inability to face the ruling class. Before the war the favourite argument was modern artillery. After the Russian Revolution had disposed of that technical argument, the modern favourite argument follows the line of chemical warfare, the air force or—in England—the food supply.

It is worth noting the effect of this line of argument which places technical in front of political considerations. This means of course simple surrender to the bourgeoisie. It makes a present to the bourgeosie of a public declaration that they are impregnable, and that the workers cannot face a struggle. If that were true, why enter on a struggle at all of which the end is thus foreseen? To imagine that in such circumstances the bourgeoise would let themselves be circumvented by the paper formalities of parliament is excess of innocence. Nothing remains, as Trotsky says, but to “educate the workers in the spirit of complete prostration,” etc. In fact the calculation is false, and based on a completely formal unrealistic view of the actual factors and development. But its principal importance at the present moment is the light that it throws on the socialist determination of those who make it. As with all mensheviks in face of every practical difficulty, what should be a technical problem for the revolution to solve becomes at once (without even any attempt at serious consideration) a political reason against the revolution.

Johnston himself uses both the last two arguments together. On the one hand he argues, quoting Brailsford, that, if the bourgeoisie compel us we will fight. On the other hand he argues that if we fight, and are presumably certain to be blockaded, “we would perish.” How he reconciles his two arguments he does not stop to consider; but in fact both his arguments serve the same purpose—to put off Trotsky’s challenge.

Russell’s argument is even more instructive. He “agrees” benignly with almost all the points of Trotsky that the rest deny: he finds that “on the politics of the British Labour Movement Trotsky is remarkably well informed”; he agrees on the question of monarchy, on the question of religion, on the imperialism of the Labour Party, on the intellectual and social subservience of the leaders to the bourgeoisie, etc. Nor does he even dispute the inevitability of civil war with the bourgeoisie. But then comes his little “practical” difficulty which enables him, as a British citizen, to avoid any revolutionary conclusion to the revolutionary principles, to which, as a philosopher, he has given his assent. Nothing can be done because—Britain is dependent on America. “It is impossible for us to advance at a pace which America will not tolerate.” Here is the true English version of Austro-Marxism. Enlarging and developing this liberating conception, Russell discovers that this is the true unguessed-at explanation of the “pacifism” of the British Labour leaders. “The Pacifism which he dislikes in the Labour Movement is forced. upon it by the dependence upon America which has resulted from our part in the Great War.” Unfortunately for the truth of this statement, the “Pacifism” existed in the British Labour Movement long before there was any question of a “Great War” or dependence on America. The fact that Russell should be reduced to such a demonstrably false argument reveals the straits to which these theoreticians of the Labour Party have been reduced in their efforts to escape the issue raised by Trotsky.

Now these arguments, if placed together, are all mutually contradictory. We are told by these official spokesmen of the Labour Party in reply to Trotsky: (1) that force is useless, (2) that force is nasty, (3) that force is unnecessary (4) that we will fight if necessary, (5) that we can’t fight. The argument that all force is wrong is in complete contradiction to the practice of the official Labour leadership. The argument that all force is useless is in complete contradiction to the argument that we will use force if necessary. The argument that we will use force if necessary is in complete contradiction to the argument that we could not fight if we would. And so on endlessly (for the arguments here reproduced are only a selection of the maze offered). But all these contradictory arguments agree in one thing, and in one thing only, and that is the practical conclusion: that we need do nothing now to face the question of bourgeois force and the working class struggle. This common principle alone unites these motley ranks. This is a very striking fact. It means that the arguments themselves are indifferent, variable, taken up and thrown aside at random, individually reached, unthought out, contradictory—that is to say, on a central problem confronting the working class there is no attempt at a serious concerted answer: on one thing alone there is agreement; one thing alone, that is to say, is serious for these “leaders”; and that is servility to the existing State apparatus and bourgeois legality and force. This is the inevitable conclusion reached from the aggregate of the replies issued to Trotsky on behalf of the official Labour Party leadership.

This conclusion—the complete frivolousness and emptiness of the existing leadership in relation to the actual problems of the working class struggle, and their seriousness only in the question of bourgeois state servility—is the most important outcome of the replies issued to Trotsky on behalf of the official leadership. It is for this very reason that the divorce between these leaders and the working class inevitably grows greater, as the workers are compelled in daily life to find an answer to their problems and to find a leadership which is ready and able to drive a way forward.

In the concluding section of his argument Trotsky shows how the workers in England are already developing as a revolutionary class force, in spite of all the obstacles to hold them in. This is shown most clearly in the development of the trade unions more and more into the political sphere. The history of the Labour Party is only a stage in this process. The real character of this process is shown unmistakeably in the trade union political levy, which is the very basis of the Labour Party, and which Trotsky seizes on with sure insight as the germ of the whole Bolshevist principle:

In the compulsory anti-Liberal “despotic” exaction of political levies, as the future stem and ear in the germ, is contained all those Bolshevistic methods against which MacDonald does not cease to sprinkle the holy water of his own agitated limitations. The working class has the right and is obliged to place its own considered class will above all the fictions and sophisms of bourgeois democracy.

What is the future of the Trade Unions? As the economic situation is increasingly bringing home, the Trade Unions have no longer any future in the capitalist framework of society. But this does not mean that they are played out, as the politicians of the Labour Party would like to suggest. On the contrary the Trade Unions have a tremendous future as the main lever of the economic transformation of the country, as the apparatus and source of personnel of the working class regime, and the schools of education of the proletariat in the spirit of socialist production. But to accomplish this role they need to win power in the hands of the working class, and for this purpose they need to throw up and place at their head a revolutionary party, capable of carrying through the struggle for power. “A reformist, opportunistic, Liberal-Labour Party can only enfeeble the trade unions, thus paralysing the activity of the masses. A revolutionary Labour Party, based on the trade unions, will together with them become a mighty instrument for their restoration to health and their uplift.” This transformation is the immediate task. The workers have already driven past the old Liberal Party. They have thrown forward the Independent Labour Party leaders, and these in their turn are being exposed to-day. The so-called Left leaders will in their turn be put to the test.

Those who in all probability will form the first substitutes, people of the type of Wheatley, Lansbury and Kirkwood, will inevitably reveal that they are only a Left variety of the same fundamentally Fabian type. Such radicalism is limited by democracy and religion, and poisoned with the national arrogance which mentally enslaves the British bourgeoisie. In all probability the working class will have to renew their directive formation several times before they create a party actually answering to the historical situation and tasks of the British proletariat.

But the needs of the workers and the force of events will drive forward to the future which must be reached.

The Communist Party must develop and come to power as the party of proletarian dictatorship. There are no ways round the difficulty. Whoever believes and preaches that there is can only delude the British workers. This is the main conclusion to be drawn from our analysis.

It will be seen even from the very incomplete survey here given that there is here an argument solidly built, based on a careful and exact estimate of the objective situation in England and the forces in the English working class movement, and requiring at least an equally exact and responsible treatment for an attempt at its refutation.

The bankruptcy of the answers published in the official Labour press is very striking. There is no attempt (with the single exception of the well-intentioned, but extremely innocent and uncomprehending, notice in the Socialist Review) to meet Trotsky’s objective argument. There is no attempt to consider the objective situation in England, the line of development, the policy of the bourgeoisie, the line of development of the working class movement, the next problems of the working class struggle. These questions, which are of very serious importance for the working class, do not exist for the light and airy writers of the official Labour press. For them everything is turned into the personal. Trotsky is “brilliant,” “witty,” but “arrogant,” “offensive,” with “execrable taste.” Trotsky has “attacked” the Labour leaders, and the natural desire is to attack him back: it is felt as a personal quarrel (Lansbury, after admitting that the book is “theoretically sound”—as if this were an issue of only minor importance like a question of style-goes on to say: “If those of us whom he criticises were put into the mirror of truth, we should be in effect saying to him: ‘Yes, and we do not like the look of you either’”). Trotsky is a “Russian”; his standpoint—familiar enough in every country since the Communist Manifesto of 1847—is “the Russian standpoint” (Brailsford—perhaps Brailsford thinks the Communist Manifesto a “Russian” document?); he sees everything through “Russian spectacles” and imagines every country must imitate Russia (Hunter); his real aim in advocating revolution in England is because it would be “advantageous to Russia" (Russell—what a childish little piece of spite!). Occasionally some critic discovers some incidental point or other at random, without reference to the context or the line of argument (like Johnston’s indignant discovery that Trotsky dares to advocate the abolition of the monarchy as one among a series of demands for a decisive attack on bourgeois class power), and at once sets up an excited clucking, without even waiting or troubling to understand the point first. When finally an attempt is made to touch on any of the central themes and issues raised by Trotsky, such as the issue of bourgeois and revolutionary force or bourgeois democracy, the critic at once falls back on personal feelings, emotions, opinions, hopes, aspirations dismisses Trotsky’s view as “a gloomy view," and expresses warmly, as if they were arguments, his private hopes and faiths, without even attempting to consider the alternative if his faiths should prove unfounded.

This bankruptcy is of course not accidental, but is simply the expression of the ideological bankruptcy of the whole school of Fabian Socialism and the Independent Labour Party. To-day it is becoming more and more widely clear that the only coherent view of actual problems possible is the Communist view. Marxism is conquering in England also by the power of facts. Just as thirty years ago the Independent Labour Party was permeating and capturing the trade union bureaucracy, so to-day the younger trade union masses are advancing to Communism. The contrast and conflict between Trotsky’s book, with its objective firmness and militant confidence, and his reviewers, with their vague confusion and shoddy sentiment in place of argument, is the contrast between two worlds and the conflict between two classes. Between these two worlds there can be no real contact. The older school of leaders who were bred up in the Liberal tradition (and their younger apprentices at the same trade) will never understand, but will go on repeating their catchphrases and empty sentiments until they pass away or are pushed aside. But the younger workers, who have been bred up in the conditions of the war and after, and whose eyes and ears are eager to take in the facts, the Labour students, the younger trade unionists, the workers’ leaders of to-morrow, are learning very fast: and Trotsky’s book will help them to learn. Among these Trotsky’s book will be eagerly read, and will give stimulus and help; will help to break the chains of enslavement to old . ideas and leadership, to give confidence and clearness and strength, and to show the plain path forward of the struggle. The English working class has cause to be grateful to Trotsky for his book; and to hope that he will not stay his hand at this short sketch, but will carry forward his work of interpretation, polemic and elucidation, and elaborate his analysis further, which is so much needed in England. For despite all the national philistines, the problems of England, more than of any country, will only be solved by the united force of the whole international movement.


1.  Where is Britain Going? By L. TROTSKY. With an Introduction by H. N. BRAILSFORD. (Allen & Unwin. 2s. 6d)

2.  One or two examples may be given of these corrections of Trotsky’s “ignorance.” (1) Johnston takes as his principal proof of the falsity of Trotsky’s facts the statement that Macdonald operated in the realm of diplomacy with the aid of false documents.” This is a simple question of history. MacDonald was responsible head of the Foreign Office when it issued the Zinoviev forgery; he wrote and amended with his own hand the note utilising the forgery; he never repudiated the issue of the forgery; and he has never apologised for it since. In the light of these facts Johnston’s ingenuous plea that “MacDonald did not operate the Zinoviev letter; it was operated against him” (which, even if it were true, would make of the Leader of the Labour Party an innocent baby unfit to be left in charge of a halfpennyworth of working class interests among the foxes of the bourgeoisie-and MacDonald is not entirely an innocent baby) makes no difference to the historical facts. The constitutional, legal and political responsibility for the Zinoviev forgery rests solely with MacDonald, and cannot be lifted by his lackeys on to any other shoulders. (2) Brailsford, Russell and others complain that Trotsky dares to suggest that the English electoral districts are weighted in favour of the Conservatives. Yet this is notoriously so, although the extent may be a matter for discussion. The agricultural districts, which are the Conservative strongholds, are heavily over-represented by the apportionment of electoral districts; and in addition there are the University seats, bogus “City” and “Exchange” constituences, &c. Compare Dalton in the March Socialist Review: “Broadly, the industrial vote predominates in more than 400 constituencies, the agricultural in less than 200. . . . In the country as a whole, the agricultural areas are over-represented in relation to their electorates.” This overweighting of agriculture—in industrial England—is a significant evidence of the reactionary character of the whole electoral system in England.

The same will be found to be the case with most of the other points raised, if subjected to closer analysis. The superficiality rests with the critics, who are startled at unsuspected angles of vision turned on to the conventional hypocritical bourgeois picture of events and conditions in England.

3.  The most complete and pathetic misunderstanding of the whole issue of Religion and Materialists is expressed by Lansbury:

“As I understand our comrade, he bases his whole philosophy of life on materialism. Well: he may be right, but my experience is that when men or women join our movement purely and simply because they think it is going to bring them individually a better life, they very soon find their way into the other camp.”

It is a shame that his staff, who should know some scraps of Marxism, should have been so malicious as to let this pass.