Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

Political Perspectives

Late 1922?

I welcome the opportunity that Comrade Friedlander’s [1] article once again affords me to oppose – most resolutely – the mechanical, fatalistic and non-Marxist conception of revolutionary development which continues, despite the truly salutary work of the Third World Congress, to find a haven in the minds of some people, obviously convinced that they are lefts.

At the Third World Congress we were told that the economic crisis would endure without interruption and get worse until the proletariat seized power. This mechanistic outlook was at the bottom of the revolutionary optimism of certain “lefts”. When we explained that conjunctural ups and downs are inevitable in world economy, and that it is necessary to foresee them and take them into account tactically, these comrades imagined that we were engage in a revision of well-nigh the entire program and tactic of the International. In reality we were engaged only in a “revision” of certain prejudices.

In the article of Comrade Friedlander, in the speech of the Dutch Comrade Ravenstein [2] and in statements made by other speakers, we now meet with a transplantation of this same mechanistic, anti-Marxist conception from the economic field into the field of politics. Capitalism, we are told, is on the offensive politically and economically; the capitalist offensive is gaining momentum, and the proletarian uprising will come at a certain moment in reply to the intensifying offensive of capitalism – where then could a new, even if brief, pacifist and reformist period possibly originate?

To lay bare at once the mechanistic conception of Comrade Friedlander, let us take the example of Italy, where the counter-revolution has reached its apogee. What is the political prognosis for Italy? If one assumes that Mussolini [3] will be able to retain power long enough for the workers of city and country to close their ranks against him, to regain their lost confidence in their class strength and rally around the Communist Party, then it is not excluded that Mussolini’s régime will be swept away directly by the régime of the proletarian dictatorship.

But there is another variant which is at least just as probable, namely: if Mussolini’s régime were to founder because of the internal contradictions within its own social base and because of the difficulties in the domestic and international situation before the Italian proletariat is able to reach the condition attained by it in September 1920 but this time under a firm and resolute revolutionary leadership – in that case it is perfectly clear that an interim régime will once again be established in Italy, a régime of phrases and of impotence, a cabinet headed by Nitti [4] or by Turati, or by Nitti and Turati: in brief, a régime of Italian Kerenskyism whose ineluctable and wretched bankruptcy will pave the way for the revolutionary proletariat. Does this second variant, by no means less probable than the first, signify a “revision” of the program and tactics of the Italian Communists? Nothing of the sort! The Italian Communists will continue today as tomorrow to wage their struggle on the soil of the régime created by Mussolini’s victory. The dispersed condition of the Italian proletariat precludes for our Italian comrades the possibility of their posing as an immediate task the overthrow of Fascism by force of arms. While carefully preparing the elements for the future armed struggle, the Italian Communists must, to begin with, develop the struggle through broad political channels. Their immediate and preparatory task, which is, moreover, a task of enormous importance, is to begin to disintegrate the plebeian and especially the working-class sector of Fascist support and to fuse together ever broader proletarian masses under the partial and general slogans of defence and offence. By means of a dynamic and flexible policy the Italian Communists can accelerate in the extreme the downfall of the Fascists and thereby drive the Italian bourgeoisie to seek salvation from the revolution by playing its left trump cards: either Nitti or Turati at once. What would such a change signify? It would signify a further disintegration of the bourgeois state, the further growth of the proletariat’s offensive powers, the growth of our combat organization, the creation of conditions for the seizure of power.

How do matters stand in France? As early as June 16 of last year in my speech at a session of the enlarged ECCI Plenum, I put forth the idea that unless revolutionary events intervened in Europe and in France, the entire parliamentary-political life of France would unfailingly begin crystallizing along the axis of the “Left Bloc” as against the present-day ruling “National Bloc”. In the year and a half that elapsed the revolution did not materialize. And no one who has followed the life of France would deny that except for the Communists and the revolutionary syndicalists, French politics is actually following the path of preparations for the replacement of the National Bloc by the “Left Bloc”. Admittedly France is wholly under the aegis of a capitalist offensive, of constant threats to Germany, and so on. But parallel with this we witness the growth of confusion among the bourgeoisie, especially among the middle classes – their growing disillusionment with the policy of “reparations”, their attempts to ameliorate the financial crisis by reducing the expenditures for imperialism, their hopes of resuming relations with Russia, etc., etc. These moods likewise imbue a considerable section of the working class, through the medium of the reformist socialists and trade unionists. More than this, these moods infect certain elements inside our own party, as illustrated, for example, by the conduct of the recently expelled Barabant [5], who engaged, while a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, in propagating the “Left Bloc”. There is thus no contradiction whatever between the continued offensive of French capitalism and of French reaction and the obvious preparations of the French bourgeoisie for a new orientation.

In Britain the situation is no less instructive. The rule of the Liberal-Tory coalition has been replaced, as a result of the recent elections, by a pure Tory government. Clearly, a step “to the right"! But on the other hand, the figures of the last election precisely go to show that bourgeois-conciliationist Britain has already fully prepared a new orientation – in the event of a further sharpening of contradictions and growing difficulties (which are inevitable). The Tories obtained less than 5½ million votes. The Labour Party together with the independent Liberals, almost 7 million. Thus the English electorate has, in its majority, already swung from the lush illusions of imperialist victory to the emaciated illusions of reformism and pacifism. It is noteworthy that the “League for Democratic Control”. a radical-pacifist organization, has elected its entire committee to parliament. Are there serious grounds for believing that the incumbent Tory régime may bring Britain directly to the dictatorship of the proletariat? We see no such grounds. On the contrary, we assume that the insoluble economic, colonial and international contradictions of the present-day British Empire will tend more and more to swell the plebeian and petty-bourgeois opposition in the person of the so-called Labour Party. From all indications, in Britain more than in any other country on the globe, the working class will, before passing over to the dictatorship, have to pass through the stage of a labour government in the person of the reformist-pacifist Labour Party which has already received in the last elections about 4¼ million votes.

But, objects Comrade Friedlander, such a perspective completely obliterates the question of Germany. Why so? Revolutionary Germany is one of the most important factors of European and world development, but it is not the only factor. We all follow with the utmost attention the successes of our German party, whose development entered a new stage after the March events of last year. The previous era was brought to a close by the March events. The new era began with the criticism of the March events, and whoever fails to this day to understand the meaning and content of this new stage is beyond hope and not worth being taken seriously. The German Communist Party has, in its crushing majority, assimilated the lessons of the Third World Congress and is growing surely and firmly. At the same time the disintegration of German economy proceeds apace. At what moment will the criss-crossing of these and other factors bring the German working class to the seizure of power? A year from now? Or six months from now? Or two years hence? It is very difficult to guess dates. If Germany were isolated, or if only soviet Russia stood by her side, we would, in the field of prognosis, favour half a year as against one year, and one year as against two years. But there happens also to exist France and Marshal Foch; there is Italy, crowned by Mussolini; there is Britain headed by Bonar-Law [6] and Curzon; there is the continued capitalist offensive – and all these factors exercise a powerful influence on the development of the revolution in Germany. This, of course, does not mean that the German Communist Party is obliged to postpone offensive revolutionary actions until the revolution erupts in France. Our German comrades are far removed from this vile type of opportunism which desires a revolution provided it is wholly guaranteed, fully insured by Paris and London. But it is absolutely self-evident that the threat of military occupation from the West will have a deterring effect upon the development of the German revolution until such time as the French Communist Party shows that it is capable and ready to checkmate this danger.

It is by no means excluded that the German revolution may erupt before the present-day aggressive imperialist governments are replaced in France, Britain and Italy. No one disputes that the victory of the German proletariat would give a mighty impetus to the revolutionary movement in every country in Europe. But just as the impact of the Russian Revolution brought within a year Scheidemann and not Liebknecht to power in Germany, so the impact of the victorious proletarian revolution in Germany might bring Henderson or Clynes [7] to power in Britain; and Caillaux in an alliance with Blum and Jouhaux, in France. Such a Menshevik régime in France would, under the given historical conditions, be only a very brief interlude in the death-agony of the bourgeoisie. There is even a possibility that in such a case the Communist proletariat in France might come to power directly over the heads of the (French) Mensheviks. In Britain this is less likely. In any case, such a perspective presupposes the victory of the revolution in Germany during the next few months. Is victory certain so soon? Scarcely anyone would seriously maintain this. At all events it would be the crassest blunder to restrict our prognosis to such a one-sided and conditional perspective. On the other hand, without a prognosis it is generally impossible to arrive at a far-reaching revolutionary policy. But our prognosis cannot be mechanistic. It must be dialectical. It must take into account the interaction of objective and subjective historical forces. And this opens up the possibility of several variants – depending on how the relation of forces shapes up in the course of living historical action.

And so there is hardly any ground for a categoric assertion that the proletarian revolution in Germany will triumph before the domestic and foreign difficulties plunge France into a governmental parliamentary crisis. This crisis would mean new elections and new elections would result in the victory of the “Left Bloc”. This would deal a heavy blow to the Conservative government in Britain; it would strengthen the Labour Party opposition and in all likelihood produce a parliamentary crisis, new elections and the victory of the Labour Party as such or in an alliance with independent Liberals. What would be the effects of such events upon Germany’s internal situation? The German Social Democrats would immediately drop their semi-oppositional status in order to offer “the people” their services in restoring peaceful, normal, etc., relations with the “great Western democracies”. This was the sense of my remarks to the effect that a swing in the domestic policy in France and Britain, should it occur prior to the victory of the Communists in Germany, could for a while lend wings to the German Social Democracy. Scheidemann could once again come to power – but this would already signify the open prelude to the revolutionary culmination. For it is perfectly obvious that under the existing European conditions, the impotence of the reformist-pacifist régime would be laid bare not over a number of years but in the course of a few months or weeks. In his speech on the draft program (of the Comintern) Comrade Thalheimer quite correctly reminded us once again about those basic causes which exclude the possibility of a turn in capitalist policy toward Manchesterism, pacifistic liberalism and reformism. In power, Clynes or Caillaux-Blum or Turati would not be able to pursue a policy essentially different from the policy of Lloyd George, Bonar-Law, Poincaré and even Mussolini. But when they come to power the position of the bourgeoisie will be rendered even more difficult, even more inextricable than it is today. Their complete political bankruptcy – provided, naturally, we pursue correct tactics i.e., revolutionary, resolute and at the same time flexible tactics – can, become laid utterly bare in a very brief span of time. In a ruined and completely disorganized capitalist Europe after the illusions of war and of victory, the pacifist illusions and the reformist hopes can come only as the ephemeral illusions of the death agony of the bourgeoisie.

Comrade Ravenstein is apparently willing, with a reservation here and there, to recognize all this so far as the plebeian capitalists are concerned, but not as touches the capitalist aristocrats, i.e., the colonial powers. In his opinion the perspective of reformist-pacifist prologue to the proletarian revolution is as inappropriate for Great Britain, France, Belgium and Holland as the slogan of a workers’ government. Comrade Ravenstein is perfectly correct in linking up the slogan of a workers’ government with the fact that the bourgeoisie still disposes of a reformist-pacifist resource, not a material but an ideological resource in the shape of the influence still retained by the bourgeois-reformist and the Social-Democratic parties. But Comrade Ravenstein is absolutely wrong in offering exemptions to the colonial powers. Before bringing her armed might upon the Russian Revolution, Britain sent her Henderson to assist Buchanan [8] in steering the revolution on to a “correct” path. And it must be said that during the war Russia was one of Britain’s colonies. The British bourgeoisie followed exactly the same course in relation to India: it first sent well-intentioned and liberal Viceroys and then on their heels, squadrons of bombing planes. The growth of the revolutionary movement in the colonies would doubtless accelerate the assumption of power by the British Labour Party despite its invariable and repeated betrayals of the colonies to British capitalism. But it is equally unquestionable that the further growth of the revolutionary movement in the colonies, parallel with the growth of the proletarian movement at home, would once and for all topple petty-bourgeois reformism and its representative, the Labour Party, into the grave of history.

Most unstable and untrustworthy is revolutionary radicalism, which finds it necessary to keep up its morale by ignoring the dialectic of living forces in economics and politics alike and by constructing its prognosis by means of a pencil and a ruler. A swing in the economic or political conjuncture suffices for such radicals to lose their bearings. At bottom this leftism secretes pessimism and mistrust. It is not for nothing that one of these critical voices comes from an Austrian Communist, and the other from a Dutch Communist, neither of these countries being as yet the hearth of revolution. The dynamic optimism of the Communist international stems from far broader and deeper foundations. For us the bourgeoisie is not a stone dropping into an abyss but a living historical force which struggles, manoeuvres, advances now on its right flank, now on its left. And only provided we learn to grasp politically all the means and methods of bourgeois society so as to each time react to them without hesitation or delay, shall we succeed in bringing closer that moment when we can, with a single confident stroke, actually hurl the bourgeoisie into the abyss.

First published in Bolshevik, organ of the Fourth World Congress; republished in Izvestia, November 30, 1922


1. The article by Friedlander, a prominent Austrian Communist, was published in Bolshevik which was then issued as the organ, of the Fourth World Congress.

2. Ravenstein, a Dutch CP leader, was the foremost spokesman of the ultra-lefts at the Fourth World Congress.

3. Mussolini, the founder of Fascism in Italy, started his political career as a left-wing Socialist, who during the First World War became a chauvinist and an agent of the Entente. With the blessing, aid and assistance of the Italian bankers and industrialists and the House of Savoy, he rose to power on October 30,1922, when the first Fascist ministry was organized, Leon Trotsky, in his biography of Stalin, characterized Mussolini, along with Hitler, as typical representatives of the petty-bourgeoisie which in the imperialist epoch “is incapable of contributing either original ideas or creative leadership of its own.” “Both Hitler and Mussolini,” wrote Trotsky, “have plagiarized and imitated practically everything and everyone. Mussolini stole from the Bolsheviks and from Gabriele D’Annunzio, and found inspiration in the camp of Big Business. Thus the leaders of the petty-bourgeoisie, dependent on capitalism, are typical second-raters – even as the petty-bourgeoisie itself, whether you view it from the top down or from the bottom up, invariably assumes a subsidiary role in the class struggle.”

4. Nitti – an outstanding leader of the Italian liberal bourgeoisie and one-time Italian Premier of the World War I epoch. In the years following World War I, Nitti sharply criticized the Versailles Treaty and was one of the sponsors of the still-born “Left Bloc,” the pre-Stalinist version of “People’s Front,” in Italy.

5. Barabant was one of the French Right Wingers who, while a member of the CP Central Committee, propagated together with Verfeuil and others, the “Left Bloc” orientation. Barabant was expelled for this from the French CP in 1922.

6. Bonar-Law, a Tory chieftain, who served as member and leader of many British Cabinets, became Premier after the Tory victory in the 1922 elections. In 1923 he resigned from the Cabinet because of ill health and presently died.

7. Clynes was one of the case-hardened reformist leaders of British Labor Pany. He became a member of the MacDonald government.

8. Buchanan was the British Ambassador to Czarist Russia who continued in this post under Kerensky. He was one of the bitterest foes of the young Soviet Republic.

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Last updated on: 28.4.2007