Max Shachtman


A Big Step Forward

The International Conference of the Left Opposition

(May 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 18, 3 May 1930, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On April 6, a step of the greatest consequence for the world Communist movement was taken in Paris. In response to a call signed by the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists (Opposition), the Communist League of France (La Verité), and the Communist League of America, delegates from practically all the important groups of the Left Opposition in the Conmunist movement gathered for their first representative international conference. They decided to issue an international bulletin, and formed a secretariat to direct the work of our fraction and the discussion of those questions which still require clarification.

The Conference Representation

Representing the French group, were comrades Rosmer and Naville; for the United Left Opposition in Germany, comrade Oskar Seipold, Communist member of the Prussian Landtag; for the Belgian Opposition, comrade Hennaut, with comrade Lesoil from the Charleroi federation; comrade Gorkin for the Spanish Opposition; Fraenkel for the Czecho-Slovakian Opposition (Leonorovics group); Peri for the Italian Left (Bordiga group); Szilvassy for the Hungarian group; Obin for the Jewish Opposition group in France; and Shachtman from the Communist League of America. Endorsements of the conference were received from the Russian comrades, from the group in Greece, and a second Czech Opposition group, composed of students, in Prague. Financial and other pressing difficulties prevented these latter from sending delegates, as was also the case with the Chinese, Austrian, Mexican and Argentine groups. Subsequent correspondence has already shown that virtually all these groups will collaborate in the work of the International Secretariat and the Bulletin. The same spirit that actuated the militant groups of revolutionists that gathered at Zimmerwald and Kienthal to salvage the movement from the ruins of socialist betrayal in 1914, pervaded the Paris conference. All the comrades were motivated by the ever more urgent need of firmly uniting on a world scale the Marxist core of the Communist International. The conflict between the formation of groups in every important country on the basis of the struggle for internationalism, and the lack of organized international coordination was, to a great extent, brought to an end by the conference. The first step was taken – a big step made imperative not only by the situation in the official movement which requires our united intervention, but also by the conditions prevailing in the Left Opposition itself.

The Communist Opposition is a product of the development of the Comintern, with which it is indissolubly bound up by its whole past. The weakening of the International, therefore, could not fail to involve the Opposition, at least in the first stage. Even more: insofar as the weakening of the International was caused by a series of defeats of the revolution and a strengthening of the social democracy, that process had to effect most heavily the Left wing of Communism. The moods of disillusionment and decline was directed primarily against the revolutionary tendency.

The Centrist apparatus, which became stronger with the weakening of the revolutionary movement, utilized all the advantages of its position. By its possession of a powerful press, telegraph, radio, and the like, it systematically falsified for years the Oppositionist’s point of view, making it responsible at every turn for Centrism’s own yesterdays. By injecting an unprecedented confusion in the ranks of Communism, it attained its immediate aim – but at the enormous cost of weakening the Marxist wing in the International.

The Origin of the Opposition

In examining its present condition, the Opposition could not forget its own origin. It arose in the Soviet Union. From the beginning, all its acts and words were limited by the exceptional conditions of the proletarian dictatorship and subsequently by the regime of bureaucratic strangulation of the Party. The views of the Russian Opposition penetrated abroad only episodically, a fact which alone made difficult the creation of a common ideological foundation. Furthermore, since the Russian Opposition directed its course of redressment of the Party line without splits or convulsions dangerous for the dictatorship, the Communist Left in the capitalist countries was necessarily obliged to an extreme restraint. But the Centrist bureaucracy chose the path of smashing the Opposition organizationally, always at the price of strangling the Party.

The crushing of Party democracy in the C.P.S.U., as well as throughout the Comintern, violently retarded the development and education of the cadres of the Opposition. The theoretical work of the Opposition, its analyses, its valuation of conditions, it predictions and its slogans thus remained the property of comparatively small circles. To this day, the official Party and the Right wing press can ascribe the most outrageous ideas to the Opposition simply because our real point of view has been so ruthlessly suppressed. The absence of numerous cadres capable of actively advocating our ideas in all branches of the labor movement, greatly facilitated in its turn, the hunting down of the Opposition by the apparatus.

Without these broad cadres and close international connections, the Opposition dispersed national groups of a propagandist nature. Every one was condemned to seek its own way by its own isolated means. In that already lay the danger of discord, of vacillation, of false ideas, and national limitedness.

To this must be added another fact. At each of its turns, Centrism drove out of the Comintern elements of a very diverse, and frequently, opposed character. They usually counted themselves or were counted among the Opposition. A number of them systematically compromised the banner of the Opposition through manifestations of opportunism, anarcho-syndicalism and petty bourgeois dilettantism. It is enough to name the Urbahns group which brought us the greatest damage by declaring its own all the caricatured ideas which Stalin maliciously attributed to the Left Opposition. In France there were a number of such groups deforming the views of the Opposition. In many countries, the course of the struggle showed that it was not so difficult to proclaim oneself for a revolutionary course in China, or in Russia, or in some other distant land, and pursue, under such a cover, a more or less opportunist course at home. Such a danger still exists and can be observed in one manner or another in most countries.

The same conditions, therefore, which determined the appearance of the Opposition as a political factor, also made for its weakening in the first years. There is no need to conceal this fact, for the camouflage policy of imitating the possession of power instead of really fighting for it is a contemptible one: we do not call ourselves the “majority group of the Communist Party” when we are but a small faction in it.

Our Recent Successes

Nevertheless, there is every reason to register very substantial successes in the recent period. These were brought out in the reports made by the delegates from every country represented at the conference. The period was largely devoted to a necessary ideological delimitation, to the purification of our ranks and our minds – generally necessary in a proletarian party and a dozen times more imperative in a faction of a party. In some cases this work led to splits and seemingly to our weakening. But in reality, aiming at quality, this work prepared for us the possibilities of gaining qualitative successes in the immediate future.

In France, the appearance of La Verité and the transformation of La Lutte de Classes into a theoretical monthly, marked a milestone in the development of the French Opposition. While the writer was in France, the loosely-organized movement was coordinated and the Communist League of France (Opposition) constituted. There our influence is steadily mounting, under the direction of an excellent group of militants whose influence on the Party and the trade unions is palpably increasing. Guided by our comrades, there is being formed a substantial fraction in the Red trade union center (C.G.T.U.) which fights the stupid policies of the Party leadership as vigorously as it combats the liquidationist tendencies represented by the Right wing “pure” syndicalist minority in the unions. Such a trade union group is a pressing need in the United States too.

In Germany, the last year was one of deep internal struggle which ended with the inevitable split of the Leninbund. This prepared the fusion of the Marxist section of the Leninbund with the Wedding and Palatine Opposition, and the creation of an organ which will represent the genuine opinions of the Communist Left. Relieved now of the confusionism of Urbahns, the German Left has every opportunity for rapid growth. Its unity conference on March 30 was already a demonstration of this fact. Despite the difficulties unavoidably present in combining two groups with diverse lines of past development, one could see the rise of a movement that will swiftly encompass the genuine Marxist elements within and without the official Party.

Our most sensational success has been in Spain. The Spanish Opposition has been transformed from a number of isolated groups living in enforced exile in France, Belgium and Luxemburg, into a powerful factor in the Spanish movement. Following the fall of Primo de Rivera, it was able to win over – in an amazingly brief period – the most decisive sections of the official Party and regroup those workers who had left it. The strongest Party districts are already with us, and the work has only been started.

In Czecho-Slovakia a firm group has been formed which is preparing to issue its own journal and re-establish a Marxist center in the country. There the policies of Stalinism have borne ripe – rotten ripe – fruit, because they have enabled the Right wing to gain the support of thousands of Czecho-Slovakia’s best proletarian elements. The struggle will cut like a knife into their ranks, however, and turn the current in the other direction.

In China, where the Communist Party was decimated by Chiang Kai-Shek, assisted by Stalin, Bucharin and Martinov, the Opposition has found deep roots. Under indescribably difficult conditions, our comrades have assembled a powerful kernel of revolutionists who are preparing for the inevitable, third Chinese revolution. Their writings and deeds already show a Marxist profundity and keenness that is enviable. Their contribution to our movement is and will be immense.

In the Argentine, in Mexico, in South Africa, among the Indo-Chinese militants, the Opposition is beginning to make its way, even over the obstacles of distance and the years of falsification of the Stalinists’ apparatus. In the United States and Canada, where the Opposition was formed only after the Sixth Congress, we already form Opposition, and a decisive element in the one of the most important sections of the life of the movement, both in the Party and in the general Left wing.

But it is impossible not to note that in Belgium and Austria, two countries where the social democracy is particularly strong, and official Communism can show nothing but mistakes, defeats and impotence, the Opposition has not made any noticeable progress in the last period. The causes for this must be reserved for another occasion. The international Opposition, however, a source of strength for every national organization, will be of immeasurable aid to these two movements especially.

Towards an International Congress

The Paris Conference decided upon the convocation of an international Congress of the Left Opposition in the near future. The period in between will be devoted to an exhaustive preliminary discussion that will bring the confident clarity necessary for the Congress to adopt the long-needed international Platform of the Opposition. The Bulletin of the Secretariat will be largely devoted to this task, and our American group must collaborate in its solution to the maximum of it ability. Our internationalism, unlike that of the Right wing, is not of the platonic, politely friendly kind which obligates us to nothing but the use of the word, and an exchange of meaningless courteous correspondence and visits. It is, on the contrary, the very essence of our whole life and movement the mainspring of our political conceptions.

The corrupted apparatus, which has systematically undermined the foundations and the prestige of the Communist International, will shout itself hoarse with accusations about a “Fourth International”. But that will only frighten infants and old women. We are reassembling the foundation stones of our International. We are cementing them with a renewed solidarity. We are defending the structure with the imposing armory of weapons inherited from Marx and Lenin. We will hold it against the rude and disloyal attacks of the usurpers whose name is Stalin. Let the bought writers, speakers and executioners of the ruling regime continue yet for a while to poison the atmosphere of the struggle. We bring a strength and light into the movement that will pierce the fog and reveal the future that belongs to us.

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Last updated on 29.9.2012