Source: Fourth International, Vol.6 No.3, March 1946, pp.82-85;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford, 2003.
Public Domain: Marxists’ Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2005. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists’ Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.
July 10, 1945
To the European Secretariat:
I urge upon you the necessity of undertaking a new approach to the situation, quite different from that embodied in your February 1944 theses and the January 1945 resolution.
To plunge immediately to the heart of the question, what was wrong with the theses and the resolution was that their authors were bewitched by the “objectively revolutionary” situation. True, one can find a paragraph or two in which they recognize well enough that a revolutionary party is needed. But even these paragraphs are revealing of the falsity of the approach. The whole weight of the documents is given over to portraying the revolutionary nature of the situation, and then, almost buried amid the glowing picture of the coming (and already begun) revolution comes: “The only thing lacking in the principal countries of Europe is true revolutionary parties.”
The inevitable result of such an approach is that your conception of the perspectives is dictated by your preoccupation with the “objectively revolutionary” situation, and is not even modified by your recognition of the need for a real revolutionary party.
To demonstrate this, let me cite a few examples from the February 1944 theses:
I was very much dismayed when I first saw this false approach in the theses, but consoled myself with the thought that they were written under the conditions of Nazi occupation, when so much information was lacking and the need imperious to hold out great hope for the future. But the, January 1945 resolution, written under quite different conditions, begins by confirming the February 1944 perspectives, repeats the formula about the “inexorable necessity” which transforms the imperialist war into civil war, etc.
You were writing after the terrible defeat in Greece, yet you wrote: “The recent Belgian and Greek events constitute the first phase of the revolution which has effectively commenced in these countries.” The defeat becomes proof of “the first wave of the revolution which has begun.” This would be true enough if revolutions were an objective function of the social process. But since instead they are made by workers of flesh and blood, the Greek defeat has proved to be a very strong deterrent on the workers of all Europe, weighing them down with the thought that their struggles might meet the same fate; especially weighing them down because there is no revolutionary party (one, that is, big enough to reach them and get them to listen) to explain to them why the Greek proletariat was defeated unnecessarily thanks to Stalinism.
I hope I have proved my point that the theses and resolution were based on a false conception. I should add that the next resolution of the European Secretariat should in all honesty not pass over the mistakes of the earlier documents but should note them and explain how they came to be made.
What is urgently necessary today is to draw all the necessary consequences from the fact that our cadres everywhere are tiny and that the great masses, insofar as they are politically active, are following the Communist and Socialist parties. This approach, if systematically carried out, does not ignore the objective situation but does subordinate it to its proper place.
One of the first conclusions to be drawn from this approach—and we must say it openly—is that the present situation is not to be compared with the aftermath of the last war. We are not repeating 1917-1923. We are in a far more backward situation. At that time the October revolution made all the difference. It was the inspiration for the German revolution. It meant that under the inspiration of the example of the Russian Bolshevik Party, there could be established very quickly although starting from very little, mass revolutionary parties in Germany, France, etc.
Now, however, we cannot expect such a process. Instead of mass revolutionary parties confronting reformist parties of relatively equal size, our tiny cadres confront two mass reformist parties. In France, our few hundreds confront a Stalinist party of nearly a million!
Under these conditions, can we proceed directly to the building of a revolutionary party? Or must we enter one of the reformist parties, constitute a faction in it and work in the direction of a split out of which we will come with sufficient forces to begin seriously building the revolutionary party?
It is, unfortunately, rather late to pose this question. It should have been posed two years ago, certainly a year ago. At the October 1943 plenum it was already clear to me that the Italian events demonstrated that throughout Europe the Communist and Socialist parties would emerge as the parties of the masses, but I failed to draw then the necessary conclusions from this fact concerning the question: party or faction?
The question, of course, cannot be answered for all countries uniformly on the basis of the general situation. But I am positive that in Italy, where the Socialist party disposes of considerable masses, our comrades should never have formed a party but should have gone into (in the case of most of them it would have simply meant, I believe, to remain in) the Socialist party. I am also positive that it would be a terrible error if our German comrades attempted immediately to form a party of their own in Germany; their place is in the Socialist party.
In Belgium, the Labor Party is still the party of the masses. I am sure that in the rosy hue of the days of liberation, our Belgian comrades could have gotten in and established themselves as a faction, with their own paper, etc. Today no doubt it would be far more difficult, but I suspect that it could still be done. In any event, I propose that the question be investigated without prejudice and with a cold-blooded realism.
In France, the problem is perhaps more complicated. But instead of looking at the difficulties, look coldly at the fact that the membership of our party is pitifully small. Perhaps direct entry into the SFIO will not be possible. But there can be found another way—for example, through an understanding with Malraux wing of the MLN.
I don’t claim a priori that entry is imperative and can be achieved in every single country I have named. Investigation by you and those in each country will have to determine the facts. But what I demand is a real recognition of the problem,. and a serious investigation without, reservations in advance.
If the cost of entry in some cases is the temporary loss of a public faction organ and/or no guarantee of the right of constituting a faction, that is no argument against entry. Remind the comrades that in the US we entered the SP with neither an organ or an admitted faction. For a time we were in one caucus, with the miserable so-called Militants who allowed us about one innocuous article per month in their weekly and monthly organs. Two or three good pamphlets can serve as a substitute for a public faction organ for a while. It might be very advantageous to live for a while in one of the “left” factions instead of openly having one of your own.
As loyal members of the Socialist party you will be able to contact Communist party workers in a direct and political way which is scarcely open to you today.
I could go on at length on this question, but I leave further comment until I can grapple concretely with your objections, if any.
Whether in the Socialist party or outside, the primary approach to Communist and Socialist party members must be geared, not to our estimate of the situation but to their consciousness. This generalization will be readily agreed to by every comrade, but perhaps not some of the examples I offer.
The question of the monarchy in Italy and Belgium is an example.
I would like to know why the Belgian party’s program of action was silent on the monarchy. If I recall correctly, the demand for a democratic republic was in the 1934-36 program of action. Why isn’t it in the present program? The problem of problems is to tear the masses away from the SP and CP. The way to do this is on the vital political questions which actually arise and appear vital to the masses, and not on the questions we think vital. Ever since the expulsion of the Nazis, and with Leopold out of the country, the question of his return was brewing. It seems clear the masses felt very strongly on the question. When he did attempt to return, what was our task? To condemn the SP and CP ministers for saying they would resign if he returned; and to demand instead that they remain the government, expel the bourgeois-royal ministers, arrest the royal family and proclaim the democratic republic. In other words, transform the dispute on Leopold into a question of abolition of the monarchy. This would be in consonance with the feelings of the masses and would appear to them as a reasonable and possible demand upon their leaders.
The European Secretariat’s theses went on at great length about Italy but neither there nor in the resolution is there any reference to the demand for a democratic republic in Italy. Yet there the question is even more sharply posed than in Belgium, so sharply that the CP and SP have to give lip-service to it. Fortunately, our Italian party understands this question; it has the demand for the republic in its program of action. But I fear that it is too isolated from the masses to drive home the point (and perhaps the fact that they are not encouraged by the rest of the International causes the Italian comrades to hesitate to concentrate on this demand). If we have a faction in the Socialist party, it could make great capital contrasting the actual behavior toward the monarchy of the Socialist ministers with their lip-service to the struggle against the monarchy; demand that the SP and CP press concentrate on the demand for ending the monarchy; demand demonstrations to force Umberto to abdicate, etc., etc.
The monarchical question would enable us to say to the SP and CP members: Your leaders promise to lead you eventually to socialism and meanwhile point to the difficulties which prevent going now to socialism; but those difficulties do not prevent us from finishing now with the monarchy; can leaders and a program which cannot even get rid of the monarchy, can they be trusted to lead us to socialism?
I give the example of the monarchical question only because it is glaringly absent from your documents. But even the democratic demands which you do mention, you do so in such a way that I cannot help but consider perfunctory. For example, you mention the demand for the constituent assembly but hasten to add: “On the other hand, to launch such demands in the midst of a revolutionary crisis, when there are actually in existence elements of dual power, would be the most unpardonable of errors.” Here again you are bewitched by your idea of an “objectively revolutionary” situation and without considering the effect on that situation of the fact that the revolutionary party is still only a tiny cadre. In another paragraph you say “that in the present period the economic and democratic ‘minimum’ program is very rapidly out-distanced by the very logic of the mass struggle itself.”
I will venture a prediction, dear comrades: that the “minimum” program will not be outdistanced in France until you have won the status of a legal party and Verité is a legal newspaper.
Everything should be subordinated to the fight for legality today in France. One or two issues of Verité were very good in this connection, particularly that devoted to the letter, Liberté de la Presse. But neither from Verité or other sources do I get an impression that the French party is making a really systematic fight for legality.
Such a fight requires among other things a perfectly legal defense committee in whose name it is to be made. I think I have some understanding of the difficulties in Paris today, but I am sure that some literary people like Gide, some politico-literaries like Malraux, etc., can be gotten to sign their names as members of a defense committee or to a petition asking the legalization of Verité. With this legal cover, the party members can be mobilized to go from door to door collecting names. Verité or its successor should be filled with letters endorsing your campaign, not only from big names but also from simple workers. You should ask the British and American parties to circulate petitions getting well-known people to petition de Gaulle for the legalization of Verité, and publish this material in France. In a word, the usual techniques of defense work.
Before you can hope to succeed in such a defense campaign, however, you have to believe in it and convince the party membership that it is important and can succeed. For my part, I am certain it can succeed. There is no irremovable political obstacle to it. If you carry out the campaign wholeheartedly, you can make life sufficiently miserable for the SFIO and CGT leaders to have them bestir themselves—and they have good reasons of their own to want to see the Trotskyists legal—to ask somebody in the de Gaulle entourage to have it done. France is entering a period of parliamentarism, however short it may prove to be, and in such a period, you should be able, if only you do what is necessary, to win legality.
During the fight for legality, do not be afraid of making Verité appear entirely as an organ fighting for nothing more than real democracy. That is fighting for a great deal today! It should be a period in which, instead of negative criticisms of the SFIO and the CP and CGT, you should appear instead as urging them to certain positive actions. Don’t be afraid that if you don’t end each article saying the leaderships won’t do what you're proposing, that you will be sowing illusions. The illusions are already there and you will not be adding to them. On the contrary, if you convince a worker that something positive should be done, and then his party doesn’t do it, you will be teaching him to be critical of his party.
Two examples: Call upon the workers’ organizations to inspire the workers to rally to the polls in the elections, by an agreement among the workers’ organizations that they will elect a workers’ representative as Provisional President of France. Take up the resistance’s perfunctory demand for democratization of the army, and really explain its profound necessity, the lesson in this connection of Petainism, gather together all the horror tales about Petainists still leading the army, royalists, etc., etc. Explain the urgent need for political meetings of the soldiers, their need to protect themselves by having delegates. Take nothing for granted but argue the question as if the workers had never heard of it before. Give it a legal handle, by urging that the workers’ delegates in the coming Assembly include it in the new constitution.
Instead of continuing, let me refer you to the Program of Action of 1934 for France, practically all of which is apropos today: But before you can apply it, you must rid yourself of all traces of a conception of the “objectively revolutionary” situation today. The absence of the revolutionary party—and it is absent—changes the whole situation. Instead of saying, “Only the revolutionary party is lacking,” we must instead say, at least to ourselves, “The absence of the revolutionary party transforms the conditions which otherwise would be revolutionary into conditions in which one must fight, so far as agitation is concerned, for the most elementary demands.”
I must close now. But I hope to continue very soon.
With warmest greetings,
Last updated on: 6.2.2006