Source: Fourth International, Vol. 7 No. 7, July 1946, pp. 213–218.
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford, 2003.
Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
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.
The Reply to Comrade Morrow by the European Secretariat of the Fourth International (March 1946, Fourth International) is only a small chip from the workshop of its authors. Its full implications will not be readily apparent to readers until they study the two main recent products of its political line: the European Secretariat’s Report for an International Discussion and the Majority Report on the Political Situation to the French party congress. After they are published here, I shall attempt a comprehensive analysis. Here I can only as yet deal with the Reply.
The appearance of the latest documents confirms many times over, alas, the fears I expressed last year concerning the disorientation of the French majority and the European Secretariat. In the intervening year I was led to hope, by letters from Comrade Patrice, Secretary of the European Secretariat, that the comrades were reorienting themselves; as late as a letter of October 27, 1945 – long after receipt of my letter of July 10, 1945 to which the Reply is an answer – he was still assuring me that the European Secretariat and the SWP minority were in “75 per cent agreement” and that the European Secretariat was in “100 per cent disagreement” with the SWP majority. Now, however, it turns out that the European Secretariat is 100 per cent in disagreement with the SWP minority and 100 per cent in agreement with the SWP majority.
I think that, basically, the present line-up is not the result of maneuvers, though maneuvers have played their part, but accurately represents the difference in tendencies in the world Trotskyist movement. The previous opinions of the European Secretariat concerning the majority and minority in the SWP were the results of a misunderstanding. Traces of this misunderstanding still remain in its Reply. Thus it writes: “In our opinion the chief merit of the American minority lay in its drawing attention. to the importance of democratic slogans.” But in the very next sentences it shows that it has not the faintest understanding of the importance of democratic slogans. Much more consistent has been the attitude of its present ally, the SWP majority, which has never conceded to the minority this “chief merit” or any other merit. Another remaining trace of past misunderstandings is the statement in the Reply that the SWP majority “has at times distorted the reality of the European situation.” The SWP majority can with justice claim that in endorsing the latest documents of the European Secretariat it remains essentially true to the line which it has followed since the October 1943 Plenum. No, the European Secretariat and the SWP majority belong on the same side in the great cleavage of political lines which is developing in the Fourth International.
This is not to say that the French majority and the SWP majority are political groupings of the same type. On another occasion I shall explain in detail how different are their physiognomies and why they must eventually part company. For the moment it is enough to point out that the European Secretariat is sectarian in theory and in practice. Whereas the SWP majority is sectarian in its propaganda about the rest of the world and especially for Europe but in actual practice in the United States scarcely rises above the level of trade unionism.
The first thing to call attention to in the Reply is that it fails to answer most of the points of criticism contained in the letters to which it states it is an answer. One, my Letter to All the Sections of the Fourth International of November 15, 1945, it does not answer at all. Of the other, my letter to the European Secretariat of July 10, 1945, it answers arbitrarily what it chooses. One has the right to expect that a Reply will reply. It is high time to call a halt to such polemics which do not come to grips with the opponent. Otherwise the discussion in the Fourth International will educate nobody.
Below are listed some 12 points raised in my letter of July 10, 1945 and entirely ignored by the Reply. I repeat them not merely to indicate the character of the Reply but in the hope of eliciting an answer to these very important issues.
Had the European Secretariat replied to these criticisms and questions, the issues could have been greatly clarified, Let us take but one of them – No.11 – and see what the Reply failed to tell.
In words, sectarian propaganda appears to be an impatient eagerness to push forward to revolutionary struggle; in actual practice, it invariably leads to passivity in which radical talk is a substitute for serious action. This is the charge made against the European Secretariat by the minority of the Central Committee of the French party and proved to the hilt, as comrades will see for themselves when the French minority theses are published.
The terrible tragedy in France, as in most other European countries, is that the older Trotskyist cadres were destroyed in large part during the war. The Gestapo caught up with Marcel Hic and his associates in the leadership in France in October 1943. The substitute leadership was composed of young inexperienced comrades and émigrés isolated from French life. Physically courageous, it played safe politically, retreating into abstentionism and abstract propaganda. It abandoned the previous leadership’s policy of integration into the national resistance movement and isolated itself from the rising of the masses. And it insisted on staying underground when the Allied armies arrived.
Mistakes are inevitable in the movement, and especially in the terrible conditions in Europe; what I condemn the European Secretariat for is its evading facing up to its errors, as in its failure to answer me on the question of the struggle for legality. In France, where the facts are well-known, it has to say something in answer, but its answer is less than altogether honest. In the French majority theses it says:
“It is beyond doubt that the leadership didn’t know how to move rapidly to the question of the legalization and the building of a press, but this is a matter of tactical faults of a sectarian character and not of political errors flowing from an erroneous political orientation.”
This Pickwickian distinction between tactical faults and erroneous political orientation may seem plausible until one learns the actual facts. The European Secretariat, on the eve of the arrival of the Allies, expected a speedy development of the organs of dual power-factory committees, worker-militias, etc. When instead things went the other way, it took the position that, fascism being near, it is useless and even dangerous to try to emerge out of illegality; the period of bourgeois democracy being of very short duration, to utilize all the legal possibilities of expression would only be a waste of time. Not until nine months after liberation, after the French minority leaders – who are the public leaders of the party because of their moral authority – returned from the concentration camps, in May 1945, not until then was a turn toward legality made.
Those who will recall the SWP minority’s struggle against the theory of the. impossibility of bourgeois democracy in Europe will now perhaps realize the tremendous practical significance of that issue. But the European Secretariat learns nothing from its past mistakes and hence adds new ones. To these we shall now turn.
“More and more” the European Secretariat says it has come to realize that the difference between us is not limited to the question of the tempo of events – on which it concedes we were right – but to “the nature of the period into which we have entered.” As to the European Secretariat’s own conception of the nature of the period, its Reply apparently explains it: “What is actually involved today is the prelude to a lengthy revolutionary period ...” etc., etc. But as to what it thinks the SWP minority stands for concerning the nature of the period, the ES doesn’t tell, so that its fears about us remain nameless on this question.
I shall therefore make one more effort (without any illusions that many more will not have to be made) to explain that our, differences concern not the lengthy revolutionary period ahead but the present “prelude.”
There is no difference between us as to the economic and other objective factors in this “prelude.” The difference is concerning the state of political consciousness of the proletariat.
On this question there is a clear-cut difference between the Belgian, Dutch, Italian, British parties and the French and American minorities on one side, and on the other the SWP majority, the French majority and the European Secretariat.
The SWP majority has denied again and again that there has been a revival of democratic illusions in Western Europe. Less categorical because too close to the scene, the European Secretariat has at times evaded the question, at others stated that at any given moment whatever democratic illusions there are will disappear. Thus for example in one and the same breath in its January 1945 theses it accepted the slogan of constituent assembly but warned that it would be the roost unpardonable of errors to use the slogan “in the midst of a revolutionary crisis” – a warning presumably necessary because such a revolutionary crisis could arise before the next year’s theses.
There is certainly a possibility of a crisis soon which might well be termed revolutionary. Before, this winter is over there may well be profound political crises in France and Italy over the lack of food. The European Secretariat is wrong, however, in thinking that such crises will do away with the slogan of the constituent assembly or the republic, etc.
If there is a struggle in France this winter against the policy of the present. Constituent Assembly, and if this struggle rises to a high-enough political plane, it will be in the name of a more radical Constituent Assembly. For (as the French minority says) the French masses today accept parliamentarism more than they did 25 years ago. For a whole period – the “prelude” – the struggle of the European proletariat is destined to remain within the framework of parliamentary democracy, even though the masses are already demanding of that parliament essentially socialist tasks such as nationalization of industry. Our task is to shorten that “prelude” by arousing the masses to demand everything from the parliament.
As our Belgian comrades write: “Correctly understood, the basis of the problem is simple. In the face of the general crisis of the bourgeois regime, large working masses and petty-bourgeois aspire to profound political and social transformations. But at the same time, the regime of Nazi occupation in Europe, and the long years of open dictatorship have developed again in the masses a powerful current in favor of parliamentarism. It is a case of having the masses make again their own experience with the treacherous character of parliamentary democracy. But at the same time it is a matter of profiting from the profound but confused revolutionary aspirations of the masses in order to call into question – on the electoral terrain which remains for the moment the only terrain on which the masses understand these problems – all the fundamental bases of the bourgeois state and private property.” (L’Avant-Garde, December, 1945.)
The European Secretariat and the SWP majority, in denying or evading this decisive fact about the present “prelude” in Europe, are thereby launched on sectarian policy which is wreaking havoc in the International. The masses want socialism, they say, pointing to the dominance of the Communist and Socialist parties. They leave out the detail that today, disoriented and worn out by the terrible ordeals since 1939, the masses hope to get their socialism through parIiamentarism.
Once one understands the attitude of the west European masses toward parliamentarism, it becomes possible to understand the extraordinary importance today of democratic demands. But only then. If one does not understand that the masses want a parliament which will be absolutely free to do the bidding of the masses, it is impossible to understand the profound depth of the desire of the masses to rid themselves of the kings who directly or potentially bridle parliament. It is impossible then to understand that great masses can be brought out of the factories into the streets, into mass demonstrations, into general strikes, into insurrections, under the slogan of the republic in Belgium, Italy and Greece. It is impossible then to understand that the workers’ militias and committees of action may well arise in Italy this Spring in answer to a reactionary attempt to postpone the convening of the Constituent Assembly.
Under the pressure of the French minority which understands this question, the French majority has been compelled to attempt to link its political slogans to the masses’ support of the Constituent Assembly. It has therefore advanced as one of its principal slogans the call for Committees of Defense of the Constituent Assembly. Under actual French conditions the slogan is not a little absurd since nobody is assaulting the Constituent at this stage; nevertheless the slogan is an implicit admission of the real situation today.
But that the slogan is advanced without any comprehension is clear when its authors, in the Reply of the European Secretariat, write: “Comrade Morrow, who counsels us in his letter of July 10, 1945: ‘not to be afraid of making La Verité appear entirely as an organ fighting for nothing more than real democracy. That is fighting for a great deal today!’ will perhaps be astonished to learn that the party in the course of the last few months has gained influence above all thanks to its campaign for the CP-SP-CGT government, for the sliding scale of wages, and for the independence of Indo-China.”
Why should I be astonished? My letter gave, immediately after the sentence about fighting for nothing more than real democracy, two examples of what I meant:
Soldiers’ delegates, political meetings of the soldiers – isn’t this, though still nothing more than real democracy, at least as radical as the sliding scale of wages? Isn’t the European Secretariat a little, less than conscientious when it quotes to horrify the inexperienced comrades the sentence about fighting for nothing more than real democracy but fails to admit that the content I put into fighting for democracy is at least as radical as any of its own slogans?
And finally, the Reply crushes me and my preoccupation with democratic demands by telling me the French party has gained by demanding independence for Indo-China. I rub my eyes and read it again. Don’t the comrades of the European Secretariat, not the oldest comrades in the movement but still, don’t they know that the demand for independence of Indo-China is a classical example of a democratic demand?
They have not taken up my proposal to demand that the new French constitution provide for election of soldiers’ delegates. They have not made, indeed, a single proposal of any kind for inclusion in the constitution. All France, first of all the proletariat, has its eyes fixed on the Constituent Assembly, which they look upon as their own because it has a workers’ majority, and the business of the Constituent is to draw up a constitution. But the one party in France which has not presented a draft of a constitution to the masses is our French party. Isn’t that one fact enough to show the political bankruptcy of the French majority (European Secretariat)?
A monumental blunder has taken root in the movement, repeated so often by the SWP majority that it has been absorbed by the all-too-willing European Secretariat: that democratic demands are less radical than “transitional demands.” Thus the Reply says:
“In our opinion the chief merit of the American minority lay in its drawing attention to the importance of democratic slogans. But it is also necessary not to exaggerate the importance of these slogans and above all to know how to tie them up with transitional slogans ...
“... slogans of a transitional character touch the masses ... even more directly and contribute to their mobilization still more definitively than do the democratic slogans, namely such slogans as: the sliding scale of wages and of working hours, workers’ control of production, nationalization without compensation, Workers’ and Peasants’ Government concretized in the formula: Workers’ Parties to Power, independence of the colonies. Our sections in Europe have gained successes in France, in Belgium, in Holland and England and elsewhere above all thanks to the struggle conducted by them for these slogans ...”
It would be impossible to dig the European Secretariat out of this swamp of its own making in short order. Here one can only indicate a few points:
1. Vital democratic slogans, i.e., those imperative for revolutionists to advance, are themselves transitional slogans. Not all transitional slogans are democratic ones, but all correct democratic slogans become transitional ones. The Transitional Program of 1938 says this plainly:
“Insofar as the old, partial ‘minimal’ demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism – and this occurs at each step – the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime.”
The most that one can say, therefore, is that some transitional slogans are in their implications more destructive of capitalism than some other transitional slogans. But this division is not one between democratic slogans on the one hand and the rest on the other. Democratization of the army would at the least be no less destructive of capitalism than the sliding scale of hours. Independence of the colonies would at the least be no less destructive of capitalism than the unfreezing of wages.
2. Even more important, the radical consequences of a slogan are not to be derived from its logical implications but from (a) its effect on the bourgeois state and (b) the extent to which it mobilizes the masses for struggle against the bourgeoisie. Abstractly abolition of the monarchy is compatible with the bourgeois state. Actually, in Belgium, Greece and Italy proclamation of the republic would immediately shake the bourgeois state to its foundations, and create the most favorable opportunity for proletarian revolution. That is why, for example, Trotsky was so sure as late as January, 1931 that the Spanish bourgeoisie would never permit the abolition of the monarchy but would prefer to hold on to it until both together were overthrown by the socialist revolution. Two months later, however, the monarchy was overthrown. Trotsky’s error in calculation was nevertheless not a great one: it is an indubitable fact that the overthrow of the Spanish monarchy left the state power literally lying in the streets. The same thing would happen with the end of the monarchy now in Belgium, Greece or Italy.
3. Less than accurate is the claim of successes in Europe “above all thanks to the struggle conducted by them for these slogans” other than democratic ones. The Belgian party itself testifies that its greatest successes came from the slogan of the republic, and its entire attitude to democratic slogans, now embodied in a thesis which deserves speedy publication here, is completely in agreement with the SWP minority. The same is true of the Italian party. In Holland, the principal slogans of De Rode October (viz., the January 1946, Fourth International) have been the democratic slogans of independence for Indonesia, immediate elections and against annexation of German territory. In France, despite the false policy of the leadership, the party finally began to revive only thanks to the struggle for legality, the demand for the Constituent and participation in the elections; above I have already indicated the democratic character of the French party’s own slogans.
4. The accusation that we of the minority advance democratic slogans at the expense of other slogans is an artificial one, invented by the SWP majority to cover up the glaring fact that this dispute began because they failed to advance any democratic slogans. We of the minority in no way counterpose democratic slogans to other slogans. We advance those slogans which are necessary, in whatever combination of democratic and other slogans which is indicated. That’s all there is to this question.
At bottom, however, there is nothing artificial about this dispute. The European Secretariat and the SWP majority do not understand that Marxism has always insisted that the struggle for socialism is the struggle for democracy. They do not understand a point especially emphasized by our Italian comrades – in the first program of the new party, which they wrote in the Isoli isolator – that we must never permit the reformists to appear as better defenders of democracy than we. This point is especially important today.
In 1917–1923 the European proletariat had seen with its own eyes the way in which the proletarian revolution had been prevented by bourgeois democracy. But today nobody can seriously say that bourgeois democracy has prevented the imminent proletarian revolution in the sense of 1917–1923. On the contrary – as the Belgian party says very well – whereas in 1917–1923 bourgeois democracy was imposed by the bourgeoisie on the proletariat which was fighting for sovietization, today bourgeois democracy has been imposed by the proletariat on the bourgeoisie which seeks dictatorship. Under these real, existing conditions, more than ever before the struggle for socialism must take the form of the struggle for more democracy, for real democracy.
But isn’t this democratic charlatanism? It would be easy enough for comrades to continue the game of that ardent supporter of the SWP majority, Pierre Frank (January 1946, Fourth International) , who finds a quotation in which Trotsky condemns as democratic charlatanism any mixing of the forms of bourgeois power with the forms of proletarian power. Frank has the effrontery to use the quotation to condemn the slogan of the republic which Trotsky himself advocated before and after the quotation.
Real democracy is unattainable under capitalism. Precisely for that reason we ask the workers to fight for it. If Frank’s charges were true that “the republic” impermissibly blurs the line between bourgeois and proletarian state power, it is even more true of what Trotsky wrote in the Program of Action for France:
“ ... we demand from our class brothers who adhere to ‘democratic’ socialism that they be faithful to their ideas, that they draw inspiration from the ideas and methods, not of the Third Republic, but of the Convention of 1793.
“... Deputies would be elected on the basis of local assemblies, constantly revocable by their constituents, and would receive the salary of a skilled worker.
“This is the only measure that would lead the masses forward instead of pushing them backward. A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers’ power.” (October 1942, Fourth International, p. 318)
Deputies elected by local assemblies, recalled at will, receiving wages of a skilled worker – these provisions are very familiar to us, for they are those we propose for soviets. Yet Trotsky advanced them for a bourgeois Assembly. He did so precisely in order to teach reformist workers what they need so that, when they find it impossible to attain within bourgeois democracy, they will seek workers’ democracy.
The Reply concentrates mainly on this question, finding it unnecessary to answer most of my points because “Morrow’s manner of conceiving the relationship between the objective and subjective premises of the revolution renders spurious, in our opinion, his criticism as a whole.”
I said the Reply concentrates mainly on this question. More accurately, it devotes its space to a yard of quotations from Lenin. Please note that the quotations are from 1915 and 1916. They have nothing to do with the relationship between the objective and subjective premises of the revolution, for the good and sufficient reason that the subjective premises for revolution didn’t exist in 1915 and 1916: the masses were still submerged in chauvinism. What Lenin was saying was then something very new in the world, namely that the world war had created “the objective conditions for the revolution,” i.e., that with 1914 the world entered the epoch of wars and revolutions. Perhaps our clearest expression for thus – it is in the Transitional Program – is that the objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have matured. But Lenin was saying something very new, and new things are not immediately said in the best and most precise way. In the quotations in the Reply and much of Lenin’s other work of that period he seemed to be insisting that war and its consequences “lead up to a revolution of the proletariat.” Even more crassly, Zinoviev wrote that war “leads necessarily to civil war, it cannot mean anything else except civil war.” As we all know, however, revolution did not follow the war in most countries, not to speak of successful revolution. The question was so troubling to the minds of many Communists that, at the third Congress of the Comintern (and elsewhere) Lenin and Trotsky were compelled to explain. Trotsky restated more precisely the essential meaning of the previous formulations:
“When we spoke of the revolution resulting from the World War, it meant that we were and are striving to utilize the consequences of the World War in order to speed the revolution in every way possible.” (p. 179.)
And he also made clear the source of the original error:
“In 1918–19 it seemed to us (and there was some historical justification for it) that in the period when the bourgeoisie was disorganized this assault could mount in ever-rising waves, that in this process the consciousness of the leading layers of the working class would become clarified, and that in this way the proletariat would attain state power in the course of one or two years ... But the revolution is not so docile, nor so domesticated as to be led on a leash, as we once imagined ...
“... Class maneuvering was far from always skillful on our part. The reason for it is twofold: In the first place, the weakness of the Communist parties, which arose only after the war, which lacked the necessary experience and the necessary apparatus, which were without sufficient influence and – what is the most important – didn’t know how to pay sufficient attention to the working masses:’ (First Five Years of the Comintern, pp. 219–21.)
Presumably the Fourth International stands or should stand on the shoulders of Lenin and Trotsky. Their mistakes had the justification of being the inevitable overhead of path-breaking. The European Secretariat did not have this justification when, in February 944, and again in January 1945, and even later, it repeated the crassest formula of Zinoviev: “With an inexorable necessity, the imperialist war is developing toward its inevitable transformation into civil war.” Now it insists on continuing to defend this formula by ... 1915 and 1916 quotations from Lenin! It is time to grow up, comrades.
Bewitched by its theory of “inexorable necessity” of the war being transformed into revolution, the European Secretariat in January 1945 and even later confirmed its earlier prediction about Germany:
“The German proletariat, stronger than ever in numbers, more concentrated than ever, will front the first play a decisive role. Soldiers’ committees in the army and workers’ and peasants’ councils in the rear will rise to oppose to the bourgeois power the power of the proletariat. The revolutionary crisis, more profound than that of 1919 ...”
Then and much later the SWP majority wrote in the same vein, and, – an article to the contrary by Albert Goldman, explaining the obstacles to the German revolution, looked strange indeed in that setting.
It was necessary openly and honestly to correct the error. The sources were clear; as I wrote to the European Secretariat:
“You wrote all this without a single reference to the fact that the German proletariat would begin its life after Nazi defeat under military occupation and without a revolutionary party; and without the slightest attempt at appraising the state of class-consciousness of the German proletariat after eleven years of Nazism. Is this not a clear example of assuming a revolutionary development purely on the basis of objective factors without any regard for the subjective factors? And even then you did so by leaving out the objective factor of military occupation.”
The Reply refuses to acknowledge the real source of the errors. Hence the yard of quotations from Lenin, and a few perfunctory phrases about the fact that exact predictions must inevitably be corrected afterwards:
“... it was impossible for us to have foreseen in 1944. the consequences of the havoc caused by the war greatly speeded up in the course of the last few months in a highly developed country like Germany where a part of the material and human premises for all large-scale mass actions have been eliminated. Nor could we have foreseen the far-reaching extent and consequences of military occupation of Europe by the imperialists and the Red Army.”
To savor the full absurdity of these sentences one must add one from the previous page:
“It is a fact that the situation was objectively revolutionary in almost all the European countries during the period which elapsed between the debacle and the’ departure of the German troops and the arrival of Anglo-American and Russian troops.”
It seems, then, that the European Secretariat’s assurance about the German and other revolutions was due to its lack of knowledge concerning the speediness of the tanks and jeeps of the victors. In its refusal to face the real source of the errors it made the European Secretariat get itself into an even worse absurdity.
The real source of the errors was its failure to consider not only the consequences of military occupation – which were easily to be foreseen in advance – but, still more important, its failure to consider at all, much less to estimate correctly, the state of class-consciousness of the German proletariat and the absence of a revolutionary party. The European Secretariat was too small to say what Trotsky, with infinitely less reason to say it, had said in 1921: “We didn’t know how to pay sufficient attention to the working masses.” To put it bluntly: all the phrases in its prediction about the German revolution – that the proletariat would from the first play a decisive role, soldiers committees, workers’ and peasants’ soviets, etc. – were copied down once again in January 1945 by the European Secretariat from the 1938 program of the Fourth International. Seven years, and such years, had passed by but the European Secretariat did not change a comma. Exactly the same piece of copying had been done by the SWP majority in its October 1943 Plenum resolution in spite of the criticisms of the minority.
That one could do better if one looked instead at the reality was shown also to the European Secretariat in the days when it was still repeating this nonsense. A German comrade wrote in the March 1945 Quatrième Internationale:
“It is certain that, tomorrow in Germany, after such a blood-letting, profound apathy and equally great fatigue will reign ... If we seriously reflect on all this, one cannot have a short perspective so far as Germany is concerned ... After the fascist dictatorship the masses in Germany are looking for a democratic way out. The question is to help them overcome as quickly as possible certain vague illusions about the possibility of creating under the imperialist yoke something that would be a true democracy.”
Typical of the confusionism of the European Secretariat is that it prints this refutation of its resolution without in any way trying to relate the one document to the other; the SWP majority does likewise, reprinting the German comrade’s article in the November 1945 Fourth International merely with the comment:
“It is interesting to note how accurately the author predicts the ensuing events. His broad outline of the tasks facing the German proletariat retains all of its importance today.”
But as to the profound difference in political method which enabled the German comrade and the SWP minority to predict more accurately while the European Secretariat and the SWP majority wrote nonsense – of this not a word.
Such, then, were the real issues which I raised in my letter. The Reply instead pretends we have a big difference as to whether or not this is the epoch of wars and revolutions and whether or not within it there can be objectively revolutionary situations independently of the existence of the revolutionary party. I grant all that the ES restates from Lenin on these questions, they were not what we were disputing.
The European Secretariat condemns the following proposition, written by me in my letter of July 10, 1945, which was not written as a public polemic but in an attempt to get my comrades to see a point. I wrote:
“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’.”
At least to ourselves. In other words, condemn as much as you please the Stalinists and Social-Democrats for not making the revolution when it could be made. But do not let that blind you yourselves to the fact that what they could do you cannot do. Instead of summoning the masses to take the power, get down to the serious business of winning legality for the party and press.
The ES does not like my formulation? It considers it a false way of describing “the relationship between the objective and subjective premises of the revolution”? I withdraw it and put in its place the same thought said better by Trotsky:
“But as soon as the objective prerequisites have grown to maturity the key to the whole historic process is handed to the subjective factor, that is, the party and its revolutionary leadership ... In all these cases, as well as in others of lesser importance, the opportunistic tendency expressed itself in the fact that it relied solely upon the masses and completely neglected the question of a revolutionary leadership. Such an attitude, which is false in general, operates with positively annihilating effect in this epoch.” 
I stated positively that before or at the time of the liberation the comrades could have and should have entered or remained in the reformist parties in Italy, Belgium and Germany. About France I was not at all sure but asked whether the Malraux wing of the Mouvement de Liberation Nationale – which published Franc-Tireur with a larger circulation than the Stalinist L’Humanité – did not offer an entrist tactic possibility. I regretted raising the question in July 1945 – two years too late. As for the present, I wrote:
“I don’t claim 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 ... I leave further comment until I can grapple concretely with your objections, if any.”
Instead of practical objections, the European Secretariat answers with a full-blown theory that the nature of this period excludes entry as a general tactic. In its International Report it goes further, branding such “liquidationism” as the main danger to the building of the Fourth International! To buttress this typically ultra-leftist theory it has to do violence to our past, dealing terrible blows to what one had hoped were the most secure foundation-stones of our rich theoretical heritage.
Thus it dares to write:
“Trotsky advocated the ‘entrist’ policy with respect to the Social-Democracy in a period of the general ebb of the labor movement following a long series of defeats and on the day after the victory of German fascism which sounded the tocsin for world reaction and accelerated the outbreak of the war.”
This one awful sentence is enough to dictate reprinting for the new generation of Trotskyists the principal documents written by Trotsky explaining the reasons for entry in France and elsewhere.
He called for entry first of all because there was a powerful current in the Social-Democracy moving sharply to the left precisely because it was seeking to learn the lessons of the defeat in Germany. This left turn in the Social-Democracy was one of the principal factors which made possible instead of the victory of fascism in France the June 1936 seizure of the factories and in Spain the long civil war. In America we entered the Socialist party amid the rising wave of the CIO. Trotsky, in a letter to the Spanish comrades dated April 12, 1936, begins: “The situation in Spain is again revolutionary” and therefore proposes ... entry. This is the process which the European Secretariat profoundly describes as entry “in a period of the general ebb of the labor movement:”
Let the European Secretariat re-read (or read) the old documents. It will find all its arguments there, in the documents of the anti-entrists. The European Secretariat writes:
“A total ‘entrist’ policy with respect to the Social-Democracy is at the present hour equivalent to sure political suicide. These elements are moving away from the reformist parties ... These elements are seeking a different banner for revolutionary regroupment and struggle and it is our duty to show them this banner.”
Not very original: Naville in France, Nin in Spain, Vereecken in Belgium, all said it first and it hasn’t improved with age. Trotsky answered them: Why can’t we show these moving Social-Democratic workers our banner inside their own party?
Why was it necessary to show them our banner inside their own party? Because our forces were too small to show it to them from outside. When workers did come outside, it was usually to leave the workers’ movement altogether; hence we had to go in to win them before they were lost. The European Secretariat tells us that “more and more important layers are splitting away from these reformist parties ...” To do what? To “seek refuge either in the movements of the right or in demoralization and apathy, in the absence of any other pole of regroupment.” The italics are mine, to underline the question, why these masses don’t consider us a pole of regroupment, since we are where the ES wants us to be, outside, independent, with our own banner, etc. The very facts adduced by the European Secretariat mutely but eloquently indicate that there is a problem here. Discontented workers are leaving the traditional workers’ parties and passing us by. Doesn’t that pose sharply to us the question of entering the mass reformist party to win such workers while there is yet time to save them? The question concerns above all France, key to the European continent today. (In England nobody would dream of talking such nonsense; well-nigh everybody understands that our party must enter the Labor Party at the next opportunity). One is happy to see signs that the French party is not stagnating today as it was a year ago, but it is still a tiny organization which gives no real indications of growing appreciably in the next period – especially with its present leadership. The opportunity of growth through integration in the national resistance movement was missed, likewise the opportunity to fuse with, enter or win some of the centrist elements – such as the group around Franc-Tireur – in the fluid situation of August 1944. These centrist elements have meanwhile in large part disintegrated – as in America the American Workers Party and the left wing in the Socialist Party would have speedily disintegrated if we had not grabbed hold of them in time. One cannot at will make new opportunity for entry. None appears to exist at present in France. But La Verité reports significant indications of workers in the Paris region and the industrial North turning back from the Stalinists to the Socialist party; a serious increase of the proletarian composition can well soon lead to opportunities within. First of all, however, it is necessary to get rid of the mill-stone put around our necks by this new version of the theory that entry into the Social Democracy is political suicide.
As Trotsky wrote on November 18, 1935 to the ultra-leftist Vereecken:
“Organizational tactics, turns and maneuvers – there are still many of them before us, in case of war as well. It is not at all excluded that precisely during the war the Bolshevik-Leninists of this or that country will find themselves obliged to temporarily enter a reformist party. Must we every time, in illegality, renew the arch-abstract discussion on ‘capitulation to the Second International’? We do not want to do this. It is time to grow up.”
February 24, 1946
1. The article actually appeared in the February and March 1946 issues of Fourth International. Pierre Frank, Democracy or Bonapartism in Europe?, Fourth International, Vol. 7 No. 2, February 1946, pp. 45–49, and Pierre Frank, Bonapartism in Europe, Fourth International, Vol. 7 No. 3, March 1946, pp. 93–94.
2. Leon Trotsky, 2. The Fundamental Peculiarities Inherent in the Strategy of the Revolutionary Epoch and the Role of the Party, The Third International After Lenin (slightly different translation).
Last updated on: 22 August 2015