Leon Trotsky

Our Political Tasks


To my dear teacher
Pavel Borisovich Axelrod

The year which has just passed has been a year which has weighed heavily in the life of our Party.

It need only be recalled that at a time when the revolutionary proletariat of the whole world was looking hopefully towards our Party – our Party, to which history offers the great task of cutting the Gordian knot of world reaction – we Russian Social Democrats were apparently unacquainted with problems other than internal party squabbles about areas of competence, as though our only perspective was the likelihood of a split ... it really is a nightmare.

Tragically and heart-rendingly, we see many sections of our Party content to sink into organisational pettiness (while in the distance thunderclaps announce an imminent historical tempest). They begin to suspect the best and the oldest of our comrades, those in the front ranks of Social Democracy internationally; they accuse them of sinning against theory (though the accusers are quite incapable of defining these ‘sins’ concretely); they call for a crusade against one half of the party; they dissociate themselves from their political friends when the later propose conciliation with the ‘oppositional’ wing, and in short they are ready to declare implacable war, not only on the active ‘conciliators,’ but also on all those who, without taking up this role, move among the ‘conciliators’.

It is in this truly nightmarish atmosphere that we have spent the whole year. The split several times appeared inevitable. We all felt the horror of the situation; almost all of us were aware of the criminal nature of such a split. But which of us could escape from the steel grip of History?

The sharpest phase is over. Now the partisans of Party unity can look forward with assurance. The few fanatical splitters who not long since made an impression with their ‘intransigence’ are today meeting with marked opposition among their allies of yesterday.

It is clear that our Party is at a turn in its internal evolution, a turn which we believe involves its revolutionary action as a whole. This turn should bring sufficient calm to create favourable conditions for a concentration of all our working capacity on tasks common to the whole Party. This calm, to which all healthy elements in the Party aspire, means the death as an organisational force of what has come to be known as the ‘minority’.

We, as representatives of this ‘minority’, view this perspective without regret; for this death, strange as it may at first seem, is an integral part of our plans. Not for a single instant has our object been to swing the Party onto the side of its ‘minority’. Such an operation would have stood in contradiction to the very meaning of the word (a party in its entirety cannot belong to its own ‘minority’), and more importantly still, to the tasks which required the formation of this ‘minority’.

What has just been said may at first glance – but only at first glance – seem paradoxical.

In fact, the ‘minority’, the non-official part of an official party, has fought against a very definite regime within the Party; a regime produced by absolutely fantastic views about how to develop an organisation like ours. According to this position, the Party cannot develop just by eliminating the most progressive currents and tendencies tactically and organisationally, but must go by the following method: the Central Committee (or the Central Organ or the Party Council), which is given the responsibility of leading and co-ordinating the Party of the proletariat, logically draws new tactical and organisational deductions from known premises. This purely rationalist conception engenders a rigidity which provides it with its own sanctification, along the lines that all interference by elements thinking ‘otherwise’ is a pathological phenomenon, a sort of abscess on the organisation which requires operation by a skillful surgeon and the use of a scalpel.

Neither in this preface nor in the book which follows will I go into the various episodes of this organisational muddle which has been going on now for almost a year. There is already on this subject a whole literature of which we have no need, and which has dulled the senses of the whole Party. For us, in the present situation, only one thing matters: for the ‘minority’ to gain the freedom of the city; and as the campaign has been waged in the name of principles, that the same should apply to all future organisational tendencies. The latest statement to date from the Central Committee seems to draw a balance sheet of the upheaval which has taken place in the Party’s thinking and (if we have understood the authors’ intentions aright) to represent the decisive step towards a real unification. Let us hope that this statement will really consign the behaviour and method of the ‘state of siege’ to the archives.

But the end of this regime in the Party at the same time means the organisational death of our ‘minority’ – or to be more precise, a small section of it, placed in particularly favourable circumstances – has subjected the Party’s political practice to a re-examination, in the search for new tactical roads. Its organisational demise does not signal the liquidation of the discoveries it has been able to make in this field. Quite the contrary. We are convinced that the destruction of the historical wall which separated the two halves of the Party will permit us to concentrate all our forces on re-founding our Party practice and will lead to a common solution to the new problems of tactics which are posed today and will certainly arise as we grow politically.

This book is presented as an attempt to draw comrades’ attention (which has been almost completely blunted by scholastic debates on the organisational questions) to the problems of political tactics on which the whole fate of our Party depends.

But these problems do not constitute the sole content of this book.

The painful internal frictions of the year which has just passed only exposed certain practices of ‘internal policy’ which have not stood the test; but basic prejudices – related to and arising out of these practices – still dominate many sectors of our Party’s thinking. We do not doubt that these prejudices will in the end die away, but our duty is to work actively for their disappearance.

This is why I thought it right to devote a section of this book to Comrade Lenin’s latest opus, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, in which some of these prejudices are to some extent systematised. Let me admit that I carried out this part of my work without the least pleasure. Up until the appearance of this opus, Comrade Lenin could say nothing worthwhile to defend his position, since the position adopted was altogether desperate. Having said that, we were not expecting such a poverty of thinking. My first reaction, after reading it, was to say: let us just carry on with the problems we have on the agenda. But on reflection – and the essential part of this reflection is explained above – I believed it was indispensable to make our position more explicit; it is impossible to leap over the aggravating state of consciousness in the Party.

Naturally the reader who considers himself completely free from bureaucratic and ‘Jacobin’ organisational prejudices can limit himself to the first two parts of this book.

In the months during which it was written (and it was written bit by bit) the thought that this was not the right moment stayed my hand more than once.

At a time when Tsarism in its death agony endeavors to appease the bourgeois Nemesis – Japan – burning on its altar the wealth and living forces of the martyred Russian nation; when below, in the depths of the people, is invisibly but irreversibly unleashed the molecular process by which there accumulates the revolutionary anger that will, perhaps tomorrow, burst forth into the light of day in all its initial elemental vigour, bearing off where it passes, as spring torrents bear away all dikes, not only the police barriers but also all the constructions of our ant-like organisational work; at this time when only one science seems correct to us, the science of insurrection; when one art alone finds its raison d’être, and that is the art of the barricades – at such a time, what is the point in fighting organisational prejudices? Or in unravelling theoretical sophisms, writing about new tactical questions, or looking for new forms in which the autonomous action of the proletariat can develop, at such an unprecedented time in history? Spontaneous revolutionary sentiment indignantly protests:

’This is not the moment!’

’Yes it is,’ replies the confident voice of social-democratic consciousness.

And this is the voice that carries the day.

It is the right moment, it is always the right moment!

We know not the day nor the hour; and every day, every hour, every minute which separates us from the decisive day, it is our duty to use. We must subject ourselves to self-criticism, prepare ourselves politically so that our part in the coming decisive events will be worth of the great class to which we have linked our fate as revolutionaries: the proletarian class. We know not the day nor the hour. And if, against all attacks, the autocracy managers to put off the hour of its death; if a new period of ‘calm’ is established, sweeping from the political scene the oppositionist and revolutionary groups which appeared during the period of upsurge, we, the Social Democrats, will remain at our posts in the ranks of the proletariat and carry out our great task. And neither the reaction nor the revolution will be able to turn us away from our historic tasks.

Of course, when these decisive events come – even if they come tomorrow – we, as communists, as pioneers of the new socialist world, will know how to carry out our revolutionary duty towards the old bourgeois world. We will fight on the barricades. We will conquer for it the freedom which it is impotent to gain without us.

But, even when these events arrive, we as communists neither wish to nor can forget or reject our proletarian tasks. It is to these tasks that we must subordinate our revolutionary tactics, not only on the checker-board of every-day politics, but also on the eve of the explosion of the revolution and during the storm of revolution itself. We have to look forward, not only beyond the criminal head of Tsarism, but further still, over the top of the revolutionary barricades, beyond the smoking ruins of the Peter and Paul fortress, towards our own destiny; the irreconcilable fight of the proletariat against the whole bourgeois world.

Part I

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Last updated on: 29.8.2006