Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

Author’s 1924 Introduction

The half-decade of the Communist International’s existence is divided into two periods by the Third World Congress. During its first two years the Comintern still remains wholly and exclusively under the aegis of the imperialist war. Revolutionary perspectives are drawn directly from the consequences of the war. It is considered virtually self-evident that the constantly rising and intensifying political ferment of the masses, growing out of the social paroxysms of the war, must lead directly to the conquest of power by the proletariat. This evaluation of the course of developments found its expression in the Manifestos of the First and Second World Congresses which are included in this volume. The principled evaluation of the postwar situation given in these documents wholly retains its force to this day. But the tempo of development proved to be different.

War did not lead directly to the victory of the proletariat in Western Europe. It is all too obvious today just what was lacking for victory in 1919 and 1920: a revolutionary party was lacking.

Not until the powerful post-war mass ferment had already begun to ebb did young Communist parties begin to take shape, and even then only in rough outline. The March 1921 events in Germany graphically disclose the contradiction between the then existing situation and the policy of the Communist International. Communist parties, or at least their Left Wings, impetuously seek to unleash an offensive at a time when the multimillioned proletarian masses, after the initial defeats, sullenly take stock of the post-war situation and watchfully observe the Communist parties. At the Third World Congress Lenin formulates this threatening divergence between the line of development of the masses and the tactical line of the Communist parties, and with a firm hand secures a decisive turn in the policy of the International. At the present time, when we are far enough removed from the Third Congress to appraise it correctly in retrospect, it can be said that the turn made by the Third Congress was of as great importance to the Communist International as the Brest-Litovsk turn was to the Soviet Republic. Had the Third International continued mechanically to follow the former path, one of whose stages was marked by the March events in Germany, perhaps within a year or two only splinters of Communist parties would have been left. With the Third Congress, a new stage begins: the parties take into account that they have yet to win the masses, and that an assault must he preceded by a more or less protracted period of preparatory work. There opens up the zone of the united front, that is, the tactic of fusing the masses on the basis of transitional demands. The speeches and articles in the second part of this volume are devoted to this “new stage.”

This second period of the development of the Communist International, which invariably extended the influence of all its chief sections over the working masses, runs into the mighty revolutionary flood tide in Germany in the latter part of 1923. Europe is once again shaken by wild convulsions, at whose focus stands the Ruhr. The question of power is once again posed in Germany in all its nakedness and acuteness. But the bourgeoisie survived this time as well. A third chapter then opens in the development of the Communist International. The subject for the work of the Fifth World Congress is to define the main political peculiarities and tactical tasks of this new period.

*  *  *

Why did the German revolution fail to lead to victory? The causes for this lie wholly in tactics and not in objective conditions. We have here a truly classic example of a revolutionary situation permitted to slip by. From the moment of the Ruhr occupation, and all the more so when the bankruptcy of passive resistance became evident, it was imperative for the Communist Party to steer a firm and resolute course toward the conquest of power. Only a courageous tactical turn could have unified the German proletariat in the struggle for power. If at the Third Congress and in part of the Fourth Congress we told the German comrades, “You will win the masses only on the basis of taking a leading part in their struggle for transitional demands,” then by the middle of 1923 the question became posed differently: After all that the German proletariat had gone through in recent years, it could be led into the decisive battle only in the event that it became convinced that this time the issue was posed, as the Germans say, aufs Ganze (i.e., that it was not a question of this or that partial task, but of the fundamental one), and that the Communist Party was ready to march into battle and was capable of securing victory. But the German Communist Party executed this turn without the necessary assurance and after an extreme delay. Both the Rights and the Lefts, despite their sharp struggle against each other, evinced up to September-October [1923] a rather fatalistic attitude toward the process of the development of the revolution. At a time when the entire objective situation demanded that the party undertake a decisive blow, the party did not act to organize the revolution but kept awaiting it. “The revolution is not made on schedule,” replied the Rights and the Lefts, confusing the revolution as a whole with one of its specific stages, i.e., the uprising for the seizure of power. My article, Can the Revolution Be Made on Schedule? was devoted to this question. This article summarizes the interminable discussions and polemics which had previously taken place. True, in the month of October a sharp break occurred in the party’s policy. But it was already too late. In the course of 1923 the working masses realized or sensed that the moment of decisive struggle was approaching. However, they did not see the necessary resolution and self-confidence on the side of the Communist Party. And when the latter began its feverish preparations for an uprising, it immediately lost its balance and also its ties with the masses. Approximately the same thing happened as in the case of a rider who, after slowly approaching a high barrier, at the last moment nervously digs his spurs into the horse’s flanks. Were the horse to leap over the barrier, it would in all likelihood break its legs. As matters turned out, it stopped at the barrier, and then shied aside. Such are the mechanics of the cruelest defeat of the German Communist Party and the whole International in November of last year [1923].

When a sharp shift in the reciprocal relation of forces became delineated, when the legalized fascists moved to the forefront while the Communists found themselves driven underground, some comrades hastened to announce that “we overestimated the situation; the revolution hasn’t matured as yet.” Naturally, nothing is simpler than this sort of strategy: first to muff the revolution and then to proclaim it as not yet mature. In reality, however, the revolution failed to lead to victory not because it generally “had not matured” but because the decisive link – the leadership – dropped out of the chain at the decisive moment. “Our” mistake does not lie in “our” having overestimated the conditions of revolution, but in “our” having underestimated them; it lies in “our” inability to understand in time the need of an abrupt and bold tactical turn: from the struggle for the masses to – the struggle for power. “Our” mistake lies in this, that “we” continued for several weeks to repeat old banalities to the effect that “the revolution is not made on schedule,” and in this way let slip all time intervals.

Did the Communist Party have the majority of the workers behind it in the latter part of last year? It is hard to say what the result would have been had we taken a poll at the time. Such questions are not decided by polls. They are decided by the dynamics of the movement. Despite the fact that a very considerable number of workers still remained in the ranks of the Social Democracy, only an insignificant minority was ready to take a hostile, and even then a rather a rather passively hostile position toward the overturn. The majority of the Social-Democratic as well as non-party workers sensed keenly the oppressive impasse of the bourgeois-democratic regime and awaited the overturn. Their complete and final trust and sympathy could have been won only in the course of the overturn itself. All the talk about the awesome strength of reaction, the many hundred thousands of the Black Reichswehr, etc., proved to be mere monstrous exaggeration, of which there was no doubt from the outset in the minds of people with revolutionary sense. Only the official Reichswehr represented a genuine force. But it was too small numerically and would have been inevitably swept away by the onset of millions.

Side by side with the masses already firmly won over by the Communist Party, far greater masses were gravitating toward it during the months of crisis, awaiting from it a signal for battle and leadership in battle. Failing to receive this, they began to move away from the Communists just as spontaneously as they had previously been streaming toward them. Precisely this explains the sharp shift in the relation of forces which enabled Seeckt to capture the field of political struggle almost without resistance. Meanwhile fatalistically inclined politicians, observing Seeckt’s swift successes, proclaimed: “You see, the proletariat doesn’t want to struggle.” In reality, the German workers after the experience of the revolutionary half-decade did not want merely a struggle; they wanted that struggle which would at long last bring victory. Not finding the necessary leadership they avoided the struggle. Thereby they showed only that the lessons of 1918-21 had become deeply imbedded in their memory.

The German Communist Party led 3,600,000 workers to the ballot boxes. How many did it lose on the way? It is hard to answer this question. But the results of numerous partial elections to the Landtags, the municipalities and so on, testify that the Communist Party participated in the recent elections to the Reichstag in an already extremely weakened condition. And despite all this it still obtained 3,600,000 votes! “Look,” we are told, “the German Communist Party is being severely criticized, and yet it represents a huge force!” But, after all, the whole gist of the matter lies in this, that 3,600,000 votes in May 1924, i.e., after the spontaneous ebb of the masses, after the entrenchment of the bourgeois regime, testify that the Communist Party was the decisive force in the latter part of last year, but unfortunately this was not understood and utilized in time. Those who even today refuse to grasp that the defeat rose directly out of an underestimation, more precisely, out of a belated evaluation of last year’s exceptional revolutionary situation – those who persist in so doing incur the risk of learning nothing and, therefore, of refusing to recognize the revolution a second time when it again knocks at the door.

*  *  *

The circumstance that the German Communist Party has drastically renovated its leading organs is quite in the order of things. The party together with the working class expected and wanted battle and hoped for victory – but was proffered instead a defeat without a battle. It is only natural that the party should turn its back on the old leadership. There is only limited significance today in the question of whether the Left Wing could have coped with the task had it been in power last year. Frankly speaking, we do not think so. We have already remarked that despite their sharp factional struggle, the Left Wing shared on the basic question – the seizure of power – the formless, semi-fatalistic, dilatory policy of the then Central Committee. But the mere fact that the Left Wing was in opposition made it the natural heir of party power after the party turned its back on the old Central Committee. At present the leadership is in the hands of the Left Wing. This is a new fact in the development of the German party. It is necessary to take this fact into account, to take it as the starting point. It is necessary to do everything possible to help the party’s new leading body cope with its task. And for this it is first of all necessary to see the dangers clearly. The first possible danger might arise from an insufficiently serious attitude toward last year’s defeat: an attitude that nothing out of the ordinary has happened, just a slight delay; the revolutionary situation will soon repeat itself; we proceed as before – toward the decisive assault. This is wrong! Last year’s crisis signified a colossal expenditure of revolutionary energy by the proletariat. The proletariat needs time in order to digest last year’s tragic defeat, a defeat without a decisive battle, a defeat without even an attempt at a decisive battle. It needs time in order to orient itself once again in a revolutionary way in an objective situation. This does not mean, of course, that a long number of years is required. But weeks will not suffice for it. And it would constitute the greatest danger if the strategic line of our German party were now to impatiently cut across the processes taking place at present in the German proletariat as a consequence of last year’s defeat.

In the last analysis what decides, as we know, is economics. Those small economic successes which have been attained in the last few months by the German bourgeoisie are in themselves the inescapable result of the weakening of the revolutionary process, a certain – very superficial and shaky – strengthening of bourgeois “law and order,” and so on. But the reestablishment of any kind of stable capitalist equilibrium in Germany has not been brought appreciably closer than was the case in the period from July to November of last year. At all events the road to this equilibrium traverses such mighty conflicts between labor and capital, and France obstructs the way with such difficulties, that the German proletariat is still assured a revolutionary economic foundation for an indefinitely long period ahead. However, those partial processes which occur in the foundation – either temporary aggravations or, on the contrary, temporary mitigations of the crisis and its auxiliary manifestations – are in no case matters of indifference to us. If a relatively well-fed and thriving proletariat is always very sensitive even to a slight worsening of its position, then the long-suffering, long-famished and exhausted proletariat of Germany is sensitive even to the slightest improvement of its living conditions. This undoubtedly explains the strengthening – again, very unstable – of the ranks of the German Social Democracy and the trade union bureaucracy which is now manifest. Today more than ever before we are obliged to follow attentively the fluctuations in the commercial and industrial conjuncture in Germany and the way in which they are reflected in the living standards of the German worker.

It is economics that decides, but only in the last analysis. Of more direct significance are those political-psychological processes which are now taking place within the German proletariat and which likewise have an inner logic of their own. The party received 3,600,000 votes at the elections: a marvelous proletarian core! But the vacillating elements have moved away from us. Meanwhile, a direct revolutionary situation is always characterized by the flow of vacillating elements toward us. A great many worker-Social Democrats, we may assume, said to themselves during the elections: “We know perfectly well that our leaders are case-hardened scoundrels, but whom can we vote for? The Communists promised to take power, but proved unable to do it and only helped reaction. [1*] Are we then to follow the Nazis?” And with revulsion in their hearts they cast their votes for the Social Democrats. The school of bourgeois reaction, we may hope, will quickly enough compel the German proletariat in its overwhelming majority to assimilate a revolutionary orientation, this time more definitively and firmly. It is necessary to assist this process in every way. It is necessary to speed it up. But it is altogether impossible to leap over its inevitable phases. To picture the situation as if nothing extraordinary has happened, as if only a slight hitch has taken place, etc., would be false to the core, and would portend the greatest blunders of a strategic order. What has taken place is no superficial stoppage, but an enormous defeat. Its meaning must be assimilated by the proletarian vanguard. Resting on this lesson, the vanguard must speed up the process of rallying the proletarian forces around the 3,600,000. The revolutionary flood tide, then the ebb, and then a new flood tide – these processes have their own inner logic and their own tempo. Revolutions not only unfold, we repeat, revolutions are organized. But it is possible to organize revolution only on the basis of its own internal evolution. To ignore the critical, watchful, skeptical moods among wide circles of the proletariat after what has happened is to head for a new defeat. A day after defeat even the best revolutionary party cannot arbitrarily call forth a new revolution, any more than the best obstetrician can call forth births every three or every five months. That last year’s revolutionary birth pangs proved false ones, does not alter matters. The German proletariat must pass through a stage of restoring and gathering its forces for the new revolutionary culmination, before the Communist Party, having appraised the situation, can issue the signal for a new assault. But on the other hand, we know that no less a danger would threaten if at a new turn the Communist Party were again to fail to recognize a revolutionary situation, and thereby again prove impotent to utilize it to the end.

Two greatest lessons mark the history of the German Communist Party: March 1921 and November 1923. In the first case, the party mistook its own impatience for a mature revolutionary situation; in the second case, it was unable to recognize a mature revolutionary situation and let it slip by. These are the extreme dangers from the “left” and the “right” – these are the limits between which the policy of the proletarian party generally passes in our epoch. We shall continue to firmly hope that enriched by battles, defeats and experience the German Communist Party will succeed in the not-so-distant future in guiding its ship between the “March” Scylla and the “November” Charybdis and will secure to the German proletariat what the latter has so honestly earned: victory!

*  *  *

Whereas in Germany the last parliamentary elections, under the influence of last year’s danger, have given the bourgeois concentration a new impulsion to the right – but within the framework of parliamentarianism and not of fascist dictatorship – throughout the rest of Europe and in America the shift of the ruling political groupings is proceeding in the direction of “conciliationism.” In England and Denmark the bourgeoisie rules through the parties of the Second International. The victory of the Left Bloc in France signifies either an open or slightly masked (most likely open) participation of the Socialists in the government. Italian fascism is taking to the road of parliamentary “regulation” of its policy. In the United States the conciliationist illusions are being mobilized under the banner of the “Third Party.” In Japan, the opposition parties won the elections.

When a ship loses its rudder, it is sometimes necessary to keep its left and right engines running alternately: the ship moves in zigzags, a great amount of energy is expended, but the ship keeps moving. Such at the present time is the steering device of the capitalist states of Europe. The bourgeoisie is compelled to alternate fascist and Social-Democratic methods. Fascism was and remains strongest in those countries where the proletariat came closest to power, but was unable to take it or hold it: Italy, Germany, Hungary, etc. On the contrary, conciliationist tendencies begin to gain preponderance to the extent that the bourgeoisie begins to sense less directly the threat of the proletarian overturn. While the bourgeoisie feels itself strong enough not to require the direct activities of the fascist gangs, it does not on the other hand feel strong enough to get along without a Menshevik cover.

In the era of the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, which passed entirely under the aegis of capitalist offensive and fascist reaction, we wrote that if the German revolution did not grow directly out of the situation existing at the time and did not thereby give a new direction to the entire political development of Europe, then one could with complete assurance expect the replacement of the fascist chapter by a conciliationist chapter, in particular, the coming of a labor government to power in England, and that of the Left Bloc in France. At the time this forecast seemed to some to be the sowing of ... conciliationist illusions. There are people who succeed in being revolutionists only by keeping their eyes shut.

Let us, however, cite the verbatim quotations. In an article, Political Perspectives, published in Izvestia, November 30, 1922, I polemicized against the simplified, non-Marxist, mechanistic view of political development which allegedly must fatally lead through the automatic strengthening of fascism and Communism to the victory of the proletariat. In this article it is stated:

As far back as June 16 [1921] in my speech at a session of the enlarged ECCI [2*] developed the idea that if revolutionary events in Europe and France did not erupt first, then the entire parliamentary-political life of France would inevitably begin crystallizing around the axis of the “Left Bloc” in contrast to the currently dominant “National” Bloc. In the one and a half years that have elapsed the revolution has not taken place. And whoever has been following the life of France will hardly deny that – with the exception of Communists and revolutionary syndicalists – her policy is actually proceeding along the path of preparing the replacement of the National Bloc by the Left Bloc. True, France remains wholly under the aegis of capitalist offensive, of interminable threats addressed to Germany, and so on. But parallel with this there is a growing confusion among bourgeois classes, especially among the intermediate layers, who live in dread of tomorrow, who are disillusioned with the policy of “reparations,” who are striving to mitigate the financial crisis by cutting down the expenditures for imperialism, who have hopes of restoring relations with Russia, etc., etc. These moods also seize a considerable section of the working class through the medium of reformist Socialists and syndicalists. Thus the continued offensive of French capitalism and French reaction in no way contradicts the fact that the French bourgeoisie is clearly preparing a new orientation for itself.

And further in the same article we wrote:

In England the situation is no less instructive. As a result of recent elections, the domination of the liberal-conservative coalition has been replaced by purely conservative rule. An obvious step to the “right”! But, on the other hand, precisely the results of the last elections testify to the fact that bourgeois-conciliationist England has already fully prepared a new orientation for herself in the event of a further aggravation of contradictions and growing difficulties (and both are inevitable) ... Are there serious grounds for thinking that the present conservative regime will lead directly to the dictatorship of the proletariat in England? We do not see any such grounds. On the contrary, we assume that the insolvable economic, colonial and international contradictions of the British Empire today will provide considerable nourishment for the plebeian-middle class opposition in the guise of the so-called Labor Party. According to every indication, in England, more than any other country on our globe, the working class before arriving at the dictatorship will have to pass through the stage of a “labor” government in the person of the reformist-pacifist Labor Party, which at the last elections already received some four and a quarter million votes.

“But doesn’t this imply that you hold the standpoint that there is a mitigation of political contradictions? But, after all, this is outright opportunism!” objected those comrades who are able to protect themselves against opportunist temptations only by turning their backs on them. As if to foresee a new temporary rise of conciliationist illusions is tantamount to sharing them to any degree whatever! It is, of course, much simpler not to foresee anything, restricting oneself to a repetition of sacrosanct formulas. But there is no need whatever to continue the dispute nowadays. Events have supplied the verification of this prognosis: we have MacDonald’s government in England, the Stauning ministry in Denmark, the victory of the Left Bloc in France and the oppositional parties in Japan, while on the political horizon of the United States there looms the symbolic figure of LaFollette, a quite hopeless figure to be sure.

The elections in France supply the final verification for still another dispute: concerning the influence of the French Socialist Party. As is well known, this “party” is almost without an organization. Its official press is extremely wretched and hardly read by anybody. Proceeding from these incontestable facts some comrades were inclined to evaluate the Socialist Party as an insignificant magnitude. This consoling but false viewpoint found accidental expression even in certain official documents of the Comintern. In reality it is false to the core to evaluate the political influence of the French Socialists on the basis of their organization or the circulation of their press. The Socialist Party represents an apparatus for attracting workers into the camp of the “radical” bourgeoisie. The more backward as well as the more privileged elements of the working class have need neither for organization nor for a party press. They do not join the party or the trade unions; they vote for the Socialists and read the yellow press. The relation between the number of party members, the number of subscribers to the party press and the number of voters among the Socialists is not at all the same as among the Communists. We had occasion to express ourselves more than once on this score. Let us again adduce verbatim citations. Back on March 2, 1922, we wrote in Pravda:

If we take into consideration the fact that the Communist Party numbers 130,000 members while the Socialists have 30,000 then the enormous successes of the Communist idea in France become quite obvious. However, if we take into account the relation of these figures to the numerical strength of the working class as a whole, the existence of reformist trade unions and anti-Communist tendencies within the revolutionary trade unions, then the question of the hegemony of the Communist Party in the workers’ movement confronts us as a very difficult task, which is far from solved by our numerical preponderance over the Dissidents (Socialists). Under certain conditions the latter may prove a far more significant counter-revolutionary factor within the working class than might appear if one were to judge solely by the weakness of their organization, the insignificant circulation and ideological content of their organ, Populaire.

Quite recently we had occasion to return to this same question. At the beginning of this year, one of the documents referred to the Socialist Party as “moribund” and stated that only a “few workers” would vote for it, etc., etc. In this connection I wrote on January 7 of this year as follows:

It is far too facile to speak of the French Socialist Party as moribund and to say that only “a few workers” will vote for it. This is an illusion. The French Socialist Party is an electoral organization of a considerable section of passive and semi-passive working masses. If among Communists the proportion between those who are organized and those who vote is, say, 1 to 10 or 1 to 20, then among the Socialists this proportion may prove to be 1 to 50 or 1 to 100. Our task in election campaigns consists to a large measure in splitting away a considerable section of the passive workers’ mass who awaken only during elections. And in order to achieve this one must not underestimate the enemy.

The recent French elections have wholly and decisively confirmed the foregoing views. The Communists with a far stronger party organization and party press obtained considerably fewer votes than the Socialists. Even the arithmetical proportions turned out approximately as they had been tentatively indicated ... Nevertheless the fact that our party received about 900,000 votes represents a serious success especially if we take into account the swift growth of our influence in the suburbs of Paris!

There is every reason to expect today that the entry of the Socialist Party into the Left Bloc and thereby its participation in the government will create favorable conditions for the growth of the political influence of the Communists, as the only party free from any sort of political obligations to the bourgeois regime.

*  *  *

In America the conciliationist illusions of the petty bourgeoisie, primarily the farmers, and the petty-bourgeois illusions of the proletariat take the form of the Third Party. The latter is being mobilized at the present moment around Senator LaFollette, or, more correctly, around his name, for the Senator himself, almost 70 years old, has not yet found time to leave the ranks of the Republican Party. All this, by the way, is quite in the nature of things. But truly amazing is the position of certain leaders of the American Communist Party [1], who propose to summon the party to vote for LaFollette, hoping in this way to secure for Communists influence over the farmers. More than this, they cite the example of Russian Bolshevism which allegedly won over the peasantry by means of this sort of politics. In addition, of course, there is no lack of variations on the theme which has already lost all semblance of sense, namely, that “underestimation” of the peasantry is the basic trait of Menshevism. The history of Marxism and Bolshevism in Russia is first of all the history of a struggle against Narodnikism (Populism) and SRism. This struggle provided the premise for the fight against Menshevism and it had as its fundamental task, the task of assuring the proletarian character of the party. Decades of struggle against petty-bourgeois Narodnikism enabled Bolshevism at the decisive moment, i.e., the moment of open struggle for power, to destroy the SRs with a single blow, taking possession of their agrarian program and drawing the peasant masses behind the party. This political expropriation of the SRs was the necessary premise for the economic expropriation of the landlords and the bourgeoisie. It is quite self-evident that the path which certain American comrades are ready to follow has nothing in common with the paths of Bolshevism. For a young and weak Communist Party, lacking in revolutionary temper, to play the role of solicitor and gatherer of “progressive voters” for the Republican Senator LaFollette is to head toward the political dissolution of the party in the petty bourgeoisie. After all, opportunism expresses itself not only in moods of gradualism but also in political impatience: it frequently seeks to reap where it has not sown, to realize successes which do not correspond to its influence. Underestimation of the basic task – the development and strengthening of the proletarian character of the party – here is the basic trait of opportunism! Insufficient faith in the powers of the proletariat is the source of the fantastic leaps in a chase after the farmers which may cost the Communist Party its head. That the Communist Party must attentively follow the needs and moods of the farmers, utilizing the current crisis politically in order to extend its influence to the countryside – this is quite self-evident. But the party cannot accompany the farmers and the petty bourgeoisie generally through all their political stages and zigzags, it cannot voluntarily pass through all the illusions and disillusions, dragging after LaFollette in order to expose him later on. In the last analysis, the mass of the farmers will follow the Communist Party into battle against the bourgeoisie only in the event that they are convinced that this party represents a force capable of tearing the power from the bourgeoisie. And the Communist Party can become such a force in action, and consequently also in the eyes of the farmers, only as the vanguard of the proletariat but never as a tail of the Third Party.

The rapidity with which a false starting position leads to the crudest political mistakes is demonstrated by a document emanating from the so-called Organizing Committee, set up in order to convene a congress of the Third Party in June for the purpose of nominating LaFollette as candidate for the post of president. The chairman of this committee is one of the leaders of the Farmer-Labor Party of the state of Minnesota; its secretary is a Communist, assigned to this work by the Communist Party. And now this Communist has lent his signature to a Manifesto which in appealing to “progressive voters” declares that the aim of the movement is to attain “national political unity”; and which, in refuting charges that the campaign is under the control of the Communists, declares that the Communists comprise an insignificant minority and that even were they to try to seize the leadership they could never succeed inasmuch as the [Farmer-Labor] “party” aims to obtain constructive legislation and not any utopias. And for these middle-class abominations the Communist Party assumes responsibility before the eyes of the working class! In the name of what? In the name of this, that the inspirers of this monstrous opportunism, who are thoroughly imbued with skepticism concerning the American proletariat, are impatiently seeking to transfer the party’s center of gravity into a farmer milieu – a milieu that is being shaken by the agrarian crisis. By underwriting, even if with reservations, the worst illusions of the petty bourgeoisie, it is not at all difficult to create for oneself the illusion of wielding influence over the petty bourgeoisie. To think that Bolshevism consists of this is to understand nothing about Bolshevism.

It is hard to forecast how long the current phase of conciliationism will endure. But at all events, there cannot even be talk of bourgeois Europe’s ability to restore economic equilibrium on the European continent, much less with the United States. In relation to the problem of reparations, to be sure, a major attempt is being made for a conciliationist solution. The coming of the Left Bloc to power in France adds strength to this attempt. But the fundamental contradiction of the entire problem still remains: in order to pay, Germany must export; in order to pay a great deal, Germany must export a great deal; but German exports are a threat to those of England and France. In order to regain the possibility of a victorious struggle on the European market, which has been extremely narrowed down, the German bourgeoisie would have to overcome gigantic internal difficulties, and this, in its turn, cannot fail to be accompanied by a new aggravation of the class struggle. On the other hand, France herself has monstrous debts which she has not begun to pay. In order to begin paying, France must intensify her exports, i.e., increase England’s difficulties in the field of foreign trade. Meanwhile England herself has barely reached 75 percent of her pre-war exports. In the face of the basic economic, political and military problems, the conciliationist government of MacDonald discloses its bankruptcy to a far greater degree than might have been expected. Needless to say, matters will not be much better in the case of the Left Bloc government in France. Europe’s impasse, now camouflaged by international and internal deals, will once again disclose itself in its revolutionary essence. Without doubt, the Communist parties will prove better prepared for that moment. The recent parliamentary elections in a number of countries show that Communism already represents a mighty historical force and that this force is growing.

May 20, 1924.

Trotsky’s Footnotes

1*. This is the most telling argument of the Social-Democratic adventurers and rascals. – L.T.

2*. The Executive Committee of the Communist International naturally rejected this policy which is so utterly false and so extremely dangerous. The decision of the ECCI was quite opportune. A few days following its adoption, Senator LaFollette came out with a rabid attack against the Communists and piously declared that he would have nothing to do with any undertaking with which these rascals, this Red spawn of Beelzebub and of Moscow, were connected. Let us hope that this lesson will not prove unfruitful so far as certain super-clever strategists are concerned. – L.T., June 4, 1924


1. The Federated Farmer-Labor Party was formed by the Workers (Communist) Party of the United States in 1924, the year capitalism finally succeeded in temporarily stabilizing itself following the First World War. Despite all of Trotsky’s efforts, the ECCI, at that time under the domination of the troika (the triumvirate of Zinoviev-Kamenev-Stalin), refused to recognize the fact of capitalist stabilization until 18 months later. As a consequence 1924-25 were the years of pseudo-left policy, “leftist” mistakes and putschist experiments by the Comintern. The “farmer-labor” adventure of the American party was part of this false policy. Summing up this period in 1928, Trotsky wrote: “Finding itself in a cruel and constantly growing contradiction with the real factors, the leadership had to cling ever more to fictitious factors. Losing the ground under its feet, the ECCI was constrained to discover revolutionary forces and signs where there were no traces of any ... In proportion as obvious and growing shifts to the right were going on in the proletariat, there began in the Comintern the phase of idealizing the peasantry, a wholly uncritical exaggeration of every symptom of its ’break’ with bourgeois society ... During 1924, i.e., in the course of the basic year of the ’stabilization,’ the Communist press was filled with absolutely fantastic data on the strength of the recently organized [in 1923] Peasants’ International ... The representative of the Comintern (in the US), Pepper-Pogany, in order to set the ’auxiliary mass’ – the American farmers – into motion at an accelerated tempo, drew the young and weak American Communist Party into the senseless and infamous adventure of creating a ’farmer-labor party’ around LaFollette in order to overthrow quickly American capitalism.” (Third International After Lenin, pp.119-20.) What predisposed the American party to this opportunist adventure was its Previous ultra-left course. “Apparently no party can ever correct a deviation, it must overcorrect it. The stick is bent backward. Thus the young party which a short time before had been concerned with the refinement of doctrine in underground isolation, having nothing to do with the trade union movement – let alone the political movement, the petty bourgeoisie and the labor fakers – this same party now plunged into a number of wild adventures in the field of labor and farmer politics. The attempt of the party leadership through a series of maneuvers and combinations to form a large farmer-labor party overnight without sufficient backing in the mass movement of the workers without sufficient strength of the Communists themselves, threw the party into turmoil.” (James P. Cannon, History of American Trotskyism, p.23.) By decision of the ECCI (under Trotsky’s pressure), the American party later reversed its position. Less than one month after the St. Paul Convention of the FFLP where presidential candidates were nominated, the Central Committee of the CPUSA announced (July 8, 1924) that these candidates had been withdrawn, and that the CP would conduct its own campaign with its own candidates.

First 5 Years of the Comintern (Vol.1) Index

History of the Communist International Section

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Last updated on: 18.4.2007