Max Shachtman


Genesis of Trotskyism


The Left Opposition and the Communist Movement

The Communist movement throughout the world is passing through a terrific crisis. From the day the Communist International was founded in Moscow in 1919, it has experienced several critical periods. A clear dividing line, however, cuts those into two principal parts. One covers the first five years of the International, during which are generally recorded crises of growth, in which the parties were purged of accidental and non-Communist elements. On the other side of the line are the last nine years, with an almost uninterrupted crisis of decline, during which the revolutionary wing was amputated from the parties.

The marks of this crisis are evident for all who have eyes to see with. In its early years the Communist International was a virile, growing movement whose authority, prestige and success rose in every land under the guidance of Lenin and Trotsky. The present leadership of the International has reduced it to stagnation or decline. A crisis which shakes the capitalist world as it has never been shaken since the world war, finds the International powerless to act. In Spain, a popular uprising of the masses offers the Communists their first big opportunity to lead a proletarian battle for emancipation; only, there is no Communist party. In England, France, the United States, Czechoslovakia, the Scandinavian countries, Poland, China, India – in all those countries where Communism was once represented by mass parties or parties on the road to embracing masses – the section of the International writhes in the agony of impotence.

With insignificant exceptions, not one of the authentic leaders of world Communism during the first years of its organized existence, is to be found in its ranks today -including, and primarily, the Russian party. Everywhere, the Communist parties have become sieves into which ever new sections of the working class are poured by the capitalist crisis, only to be lost through the holes of bureaucratism and false policies. Almost thirteen years after the founding of the International, the overwhelming majority of its greatly reduced membership has not been in the party ranks for longer than two years; the old members have been lost or expelled.

Why is this disastrous situation of concern to every worker conscious of his class interests? For the following reasons:

Communism is the hope of the whole working class. A classless socialist commonwealth cannot be attained without the overthrow of the rule of capitalism. To accomplish this aim is the historic mission of the working class. The sharpest and most effective instrument at the command of the workers in the struggle against their class enemy, is the revolutionary political party. Such a party is not the work of one day or one man. It grows out of the needs of the class whose interests it represents, until it embraces the most advanced, the most militant and the best tested fighters.

When the ruling class has lost the following of the masses, when it can no longer satisfy even their most elementary daily needs, and when the masses transfer their confidence to their own class party -the ranks of the latter are strengthened and steeled to the point where it is enabled to fight the final battle. In raising the proletariat to the position of the ruling class, a new page is opened up in human history, for the workers cannot liberate themselves without emancipating the whole of humanity. To lead the proletariat in this titanic inspiring struggle modern history offers as the most highly developed, as the only possible leadership – the Communist party.

The only other party that presumes to speak in the name of labor is the social democracy, or the socialist party. But in reality, it is the party of the petty bourgeoisie, the last pillar of capitalist democracy. From a defense of “democracy in general,” it switches to the defense of “democracy in particular,” that is, a defense of its specific capitalist fatherland. It sacrifices the interests of the world proletariat to the interests of its own national labor aristocracy and middle class.

During the war, the socialists were the main instruments of imperialism in the ranks of the working class. They supported the imperialist war, each in the interests of his own ruling class. After the war, the socialists missed no opportunity to range themselves on the side of the capitalist class in the fierce struggle to put down the revolutionary proletariat -- by force of arms, if necessary.

From its foundation day, the Communist International declared pitiless war against socialist treachery, against corruption and degeneration in the working class, against bureaucratism and opportunism. The Communist parties everywhere were born and grew up in combat against socialist reaction. The torn confused and scattered ranks of the revolutionary movement throughout the world were reunited under the banner of the Russian revolution and world Communism. Into the darkness of reaction which the socialists had propped up firmly in the saddle, the Communists brought the light of working class progress. They broke the strangulating noose of class collaboration which the socialists had tightened around the neck of the proletariat. The masses were once more led upon the road of class struggle. In every field of proletarian endeavor -- in the trade unions, in strikes, in parliament, in demonstrations, in the cooperatives, in the sports organizations – the Communists reawakened the depressed spirit of the workers, fortified them with new courage, enlightened them with new ideas, inspired them to new militancy. The postwar reaction in every land found only the young Communist movement standing up to give warning to the blood and profit soaked bourgeoisie -- not merely that its offensive against labor would not proceed without resistance, but that labor itself was taking the offensive to uproot the decaying old society and to found a new one.

Communism -the ideal revived by the Russian Bolshevik revolution -was and’ remains the hope of the op- pressed and exploited. But if the party of Communism is incapable of successfully leading the struggle for emancipation, no other force will ever unseat the rule of capital. This is why the condition and development of the Communist International vitally affects all workers. Our internal disputes and struggles are not, therefore, a private affair. They concern the whole working class.

The Left Opposition, organized in this country as the Communist League of America (Opposition), was born out of the crisis in the Communist International. Its efforts are directed at solving this crisis. This stupendous task requires the cooperation of the greatest possible number of Communist and class conscious militants. In order to gain this cooperation and so that it may be of greater value than mere sentimental sympathy, it is necessary to understand the origin and the nature of the crisis in Communism at the most important points in its development. In examining into them, the reader will at the same time be able to check the views of the Left Opposition against the actual course of events; nothing can serve as a more conclusive test of conflicting views in the revolutionary movement.


Last updated on 9.4.2005