Written: 16 May 1927.
First Published: The New International (New York), Vol.2 No.6, October 1935, pp.201-204.
Translated: The New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
Original 1938 Introduction by The New International
The burning problem of the united front finds pertinent comment in the following document by Leon Trotsky. The position of the revolutionary Marxists in favor of the united front is fairly well known, especially by virtue of their struggle in the past several years against the spurious “Leftism” of the Stalinist sectarianisms who so obdurately combated the united front during the so-called “Third Period”. The problems of the united front are not, however, exhausted merely by declarations in its favor or even once it is formed. In some respects, it is only then that the real problems commence for revolutionists. The document on the Anglo-Russian Committee, composed of the Stalinist heads of the Russian unions and the reformist leaders of England’s unions, deals with some of the mot decisive and fundamental aspects of revolutionary policy in the united front. Its pertinence is particularly marked in view of the thoroughly opportunistic course pursued by Stalinism today in the united front, where the crimes of the Anglo-Russian Committee policy are only renewed and multiplied. – Editor.
THE WHOLE international situation and all the tendencies of its development make the struggle against war and for the defense of the USSR as the first workers’ state the central task of the international proletariat. But it is just the tension of the situation that demands clarity, a precise political line and firm correction of the errors made.
2. War is the continuation of politics by other means. The struggle against war is a continuation of revolutionary policy against the capitalist regime. To grasp this idea means to find the key to all opportunist errors in questions relating to war. Imperialism is no external factor existing by itself; it is the highest expression of the basic tendencies of capitalism. War is the highest method of imperialist policy. The struggle against imperialist war can and must be the highest expression of the international policy of the proletariat.
Opportunism, or radicalism that is turning to opportunism, always inclines to estimate war as such an exceptional phenomenon that it requires the annulment of revolutionary policy and its basic principles. Centrism reconciles itself to revolutionary methods but does not believe in them. That is why it is always inclined, at critical moments, to refer to the peculiarity of the situation, to exceptional circumstances, and so on, in order to substitute opportunist methods for revolutionary ones. Such a shift in the policy of Centrism or pseudoradicalism is of course acutely provoked by the war danger. With all the greater intransigence must this touchstone be applied to the main tendencies of the Communist International.
2. It is already clear to everybody that the Anglo-Russian Committee must not be regarded as a trade union organization into which the communists enter to fight for influence over the masses, but as a “peculiar” political bloc with well-defined aims, directing its activities primarily against the war danger. With tenfold attention to the experience and the example of the Anglo-Russian Committee, the methods of struggle against the war danger must be closely reexamined so as to be able to tell the revolutionary proletariat openly and precisely what must not be done if the Comintern is not to be destroyed and the bloody work of imperialism against the international proletariat and the USSR facilitated.
3. In the presidium of the ECCI on May 11, comrade Bukharin advanced a new interpretation of our capitulation to the General Council in Berlin. He declared that the capitulation must not be considered from the standpoint of the international revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, but from the standpoint of a “diplomatic” counter-action to the offensive of imperialism against the USSR.
Various weapons of international action are at our disposal: the party (Comintern), the trade unions, diplomacy, the press, etc. Our activities in the trade union field are dictated to us by the tasks of the class struggle. But only “as a general rule”. In certain cases, as exceptions, we must – according to Bukharin – utilize the organs of the trade union movement as instruments of diplomatic action. This is what happened with the Anglo-Russian Committee. We capitulated to the General Council not as the General Council, but as the agent of the English government. We obligated ourselves not to interfere not out of party reasons, but for reasons of state. That is the substance of the new interpretation of the Berlin capitulation which, as we will soon show, only makes it still more dangerous.
4. The Berlin agreement of the Central Council of the Soviet Union with the General Council was discussed a short time ago at the April plenum of the Central Committee of our party. The decisions of the Berlin Conference were defended by comrades Tomsky, Andreyev, and Melnichansky, that is, our outstanding trade unionists, but not our diplomats. All these comrades, in defending the Berlin capitulation, accused the Opposition of not understanding the role and methods of the trade union movement, and declared that the masses of trade unionists cannot be influenced by breaking with the apparatus, that the apparatus cannot be influenced by breaking with its upper sections, and that these were just the considerations that dictated the attitude of our trade unionists in Berlin.
Now comrade Bukharin explains that the decisions of the Berlin Conference constitute, on the contrary, an exceptional case, an exception from the principled Bolshevist method of influencing the trade unions, an exception in the name of temporary, but acute diplomatic tasks. Why did not comrade Bukharin, and comrade Tomsky together with him, explain this to us at the last plenary session of our Central Committee?
5. Where did such an appalling contradiction come from in the course of a few weeks? It grew out of the impossibility of standing, if even for a single month, on the April position. When our delegation left for Berlin it did not have Bukharin’s subsequent explanation of the position it was to take. Did comrade Bukharin himself have this explanation at that time? At all events, it was nowhere expressed by anybody ... It is quite clear that this explanation was thought up after the event.
6. It becomes still clearer when we go back further, that is, to the origin of the question. After the extremely rascally calling off of the general strike by the General Council, the “Left” vying with the Right for the palm, the Opposition in the CPSU demanded an immediate break with the General Council so as to make easier and accelerate the liberation of the proletarian vanguard from the influence of the traitors. The majority of the Central Committee opposed to this their viewpoint that the retention of the Anglo-Russian Committee was allegedly required in the interests of our revolutionary influencing of the English proletariat, despite the counterrevolutionary policy of the General Council during the strike. It was precisely at this moment that comrade Stalin advanced his theory of stages that cannot be skipped over. By the word “stage”, in this case, must not be understood the political level of the masses, which varies with different strata, but of the conservative leaders who reflect the pressure of the bourgeoisie on the proletariat and conduct an irreconcilable struggle against the advanced sections of the proletariat.
In contradiction to this, the Opposition contended that the maintenance of the Anglo-Russian Committee after its open and obvious betrayal which closed the preceding period of “Left development” would have as its inevitable conclusion an impermissible weakening of our criticism of the leaders of the General Council, at least of its “Left” wing. We were answered, primarily by this same Bukharin, that this is a revolting slander; that the organizational alliance does not hinder our revolutionary criticism in the slightest degree; that we would not permit any kind of principle concessions, that the Anglo-Russian Committee would only be an organizational bridge to the masses for us. It occurred to nobody at that time to justify the maintenance of the Anglo-Russian Committee by referring to grounds of a diplomatic character which necessitate a temporary abandonment of the revolutionary line.
7. The Opposition foretold in its writings that the maintenance of the Anglo-Russian Committee would steadily strengthen the political position of the General Council, and that it would inevitably be converted from defendant to prosecutor. This prediction was explained as the fruit of our “ultra-Leftism”. Incidentally, an especially ridiculous theory was created, namely, that the demand for the dissolution of the Anglo-Russian Committee was equivalent to the demand for the workers to leave the trade unions. By that alone, the policy of maintaining the Anglo-Russian Committee was invested with the character of an exceptionally important question of principle.
8. Nevertheless it was very quickly proved that the choice must be made between maintaining organizational connections with the General Council or calling the traitors by their name. The majority of the Political Bureau inclined more and more to maintain the organizational connections at any cost. To achieve this aim, no “skipping over stages” was required, it is true; but it did require sinking politically one degree after another. This can most distinctly be followed in the three conferences of the Anglo-Russian Committee: in Paris (July 1926), in Berlin (August 1926) and most recently in Berlin (April 1927). Each time our criticism of the General Council became more cautious, and completely avoided touching on the “Left”, that is, on the most dangerous betrayers of the working class.
9. The General Council felt all along, by its consistent pressure, that it held the representatives of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions in its hand. From the defendant it became the prosecutor. It understood that if the Bolsheviks did not break on the question of the general strike which had such a tremendous international importance, they would not break later on, no matter what demands were placed before them. We see how the General Council, under the pressure of the English bourgeoisie, conducted its offensive against the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions with ever greater energy. The Central Council retreated and yielded. These retreats were explained on the grounds of revolutionary strategy in the trade union movement, but by no means for diplomatic motives.
The line of the Political Bureau ended naturally and inevitably with the Berlin conference of the Anglo-Russian Committee at the beginning of April. The capitulation of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions on the basic questions of the international working class movement was neither an unexpected side-leap nor an abrupt manœvre. No, it was the inevitable crowning, predicted by us long before, of the whole line followed in this question.
10. At the beginning of June of last year, comrade Bukharin, as we said, was the creator of a theory according to which the necessity of working in reactionary trade unions allegedly brought with it the maintenance of the Anglo-Russian Committee under all circumstances. In the face of all the evidence, Bukharin at that time flatly denied that the Anglo-Russian Committee was a political bloc and called it a “trade union organization”.
Now Bukharin creates a new theory, according to which our remaining [...] the Anglo-Russian Committee, bought at the price of an absolutely unprincipled capitulation, was not called forth by the needs of a “trade union organization”, but by the necessity of maintaining a political bloc with the General Council in the name of diplomatic aims.
Bukharin’s theory of today is in direct contradiction to his theory of yesterday. They have only this in common, that they are both one hundred percent deceitful, that they were both dragged in by the hair in order to justify after the fact, at two different stages, the sliding down from a Bolshevist to a compromising line.
11. That the Right will betray us in the event of war, is recognized as indisputable even by Bukharin. So far as the “Left” is concerned, it will “probably” betray us. But if it betrays us, it will do it, according to Bukharin, “in its own way”, by not supporting us but by playing the role of ballast for the English government. Pitiful as these considerations may be, they must nevertheless be demolished.
Let us assume for a moment that all of this is really so. But if the “Left” betrays us “in its own way”, that is, less actively, in a more veiled manner than the Right, it will surely not be because of the lovely eyes of the delegation of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, but because of the English workers. That is the general line of policy of the “Left” in all questions, internal as well as external: to betray, but “in its own way”. This policy is profitable for it. Then why are we obliged to pay the “Left” with the abandonment of our policy, for a policy which they are forced in any case to carry out in their own interests?
12. But in what sense will the “Left” be a ballast for the English government? Obviously, in the same sense that they were “ballast” during the imperialist war, or are now, during the war of England against revolutionary China, and during the campaign of the Conservatives against the trade unions. The “Left” criticizes the government within such limits as do not interfere with its role as exploiter and robber. The “Left” gives expression to the dissatisfaction of the masses within these limits, so as to restrain them from revolutionary action.
In case the dissatisfaction of the masses breaks through to the outside, the “Left” seeks to dominate the movement in order to strangle it. Were the “Left” not to criticize, not to expose, not to attack the bourgeoisie, it would be unable to serve it “in its own way”.
If it is admitted that the “Left” is a ballast, then it is admitted that it is the useful, appropriate, necessary, succoring ballast without which the ship of British imperialism would long ago have gone down.
To be sure, the Diehards are fulminating against the “Left”. But this is done to keep the fear of God in it, so that it will not overstep the bounds prescribed for it, so that no unnecessary expense be incurred for their “ballast”. The Diehards are just as necessary an ingredient in the imperialist mechanism as the “Left”.
13. But under the pressure of the masses cannot even the Left overstep the bounds prescribed for it by the bourgeois régime! This unexpected argument is also launched.
That the revolutionary pressure of the masses can undo the game of Chamberlain-Thomas-Purcell, is incontestable. But the dispute does not hinge on whether the international revolutionary movement of the proletariat is advantageous for a workers’ state, but rather whether we are helping or obstructing it by our policy.
The pressure of the masses, all other conditions being equal, will be all the stronger the more the masses are alarmed by the perspective of war, the less they rely upon the General Council, and the less confidence they have in the “Left” traitors (traitors “in their own way”). If we sign “unanimously” a pitiful, lying, hypocritical declaration on the war together with the General Council, we thereby pacify the masses, appease their restlessness, lull them to sleep, and consequently reduce their pressure on the “Left”.
14. The Berlin Conference can be justified by the “international interests of the USSR”! Here the mistake of Bukharin becomes especially atrocious. Precisely the interests of the USSR will suffer chiefly and most directly as a result of the false policy of the Political Bureau towards the General Council. Nothing can cause us such harm as mistakes and hypocrisy in the revolutionary camp of the proletariat. We will not deceive our enemies, the experienced and shrewd imperialists. Hypocrisy will help the vacillating pacifists to vacillate in the future. And our real friends, the revolutionary workers, can only be deceived and weakened by the policy of illusions and hypocrisy.
That is just why Lenin wrote in his instructions for our delegation to the pacifist congress at The Hague, where we had to deal with the same trade unionists, cooperators, and so forth:
“It seems to me that if we will have at the Hague Conference a few people who are able to make a speech in one or another language against the war, the most important thing will be to refute the idea that those participating in the conference are opponents of war, that they understand how war may and can burst upon them at the most unexpected moment, that they have the least knowledge of the means to employ against war, or that they are in any way capable of adopting an intelligent and effective path of struggle against the war.” (Lenin, Works, Vol.XX, Supplementary Vol., Part 2, p.530, Russian ed.)
What interests did Lenin have in mind in writing these words: the international interests of the USSR or the revolutionary interests of the international proletariat? In such a basic question Lenin did not and could not set the one against the other. Lenin was of the opinion that the slightest yielding to the pacifist illusions of the trade unionists would render more difficult the real struggle against the war danger and injure the international proletariat as much as the USSR.
Lenin had conscientious pacifists in mind here, and not branded strike-breakers who are condemned by their whole position after May 1926 to a further chain of betrayals ...
16. In what manner can the thoroughly rotten, pseudo-pacifist agreement with traitors, whom we have already declared by common accord to be the “only representatives” of the English proletariat, strengthen our international position ? How? The Berlin conference took place in the period of the opening of hostilities by the English government against China and the preparation of similar hostilities against us. The interests of our international position demanded above all that these facts be openly called by their proper name. Instead, we passed them over in silence. Chamberlain knows these facts and is obliged to conceal them. The English masses do not correctly know these facts and are obliged to learn them from us. Honest pacifists among the workers can go over to a revolutionary line in the face of these facts. The base merchants of pacifism in the General Council cannot speak aloud about facts which would, at best and without doubt, expose their silent conspiracy with Chamberlain against the English workers, against China, against the USSR and against the world proletariat.
Now what did we do in Berlin? With all the authority of a workers’ state, we helped the “pacifist” lackeys of imperialism to preserve their thieves’ secret. Worse yet, we assumed responsibility for this secret. We proclaimed before the whole world that we are “in unanimous accord” with the agents of Chamberlain in the General Council in the cause of the struggle against war. We thereby weakened the resistance power of the English workers against the war. We thereby increased Chamberlain’s freedom of action. We thereby injured the international position of the USSR.
It must be said more concretely: The Berlin capitulation of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions to the General Council extraordinarily facilitated Chamberlain’s attack on the Soviet institutions in London, with all the possible consequences of this act.
17. It must not be forgotten that thanks especially to the insular position of England and the absence of a direct threat to its borders, the English reformists, during the war, allowed themselves a somewhat greater “freedom” of words than their brothers-in-treason on the continent. But in general they played the same role. Now, with the experiences of the imperialist war, the reformists, especially of the “Left”, will endeavor in the event of a new war to throw even more sand in the eyes of the workers than in the years 1914-1918.
It is entirely probable that, as a result of the attack on the Soviet institutions in London, which was prepared by the whole policy of the “Left”, they will protest in a little louder tone than the liberals. But if the Anglo-Russian Committee were in any way capable of helping, not Chamberlain, but us, then would not both sides have come to an agreement in the first twenty-four hours, sounded the alarm, and spoken to the masses in a language corresponding to the seriousness of the circumstances? But nothing of the sort occurred and nothing will. The Anglo-Russian Committee did not exist during the general strike when the General Council refused to accept the “damned gold” of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions; the Anglo-Russian Committee did not exist during the miners’ strike; the Anglo-Russian Committee did not exist during the bombardment of Nanking, and the Anglo-Russian Committee will not exist in the event of the breaking of diplomatic relations between England and the USSR. These harsh truths must be told the workers. They must be honestly warned. That will strengthen the USSR!
18. It may be replied: But concessions on our part to the bourgeoisie are permissible, and if the present General Council is considered an agent of the bourgeoisie within the working class movement, why should we not make concessions to the General Council out of the same considerations that we make concessions to imperialism? Certain comrades are beginning to play with this formula which is a classic example of the falsification and overthrow of Leninism for opportunist political aims.
If we are forced to make concessions to our class enemy, we make them to the master himself, but not to his Menshevik clerk. We never mask and never embellish our concessions. When we resigned ourselves to Curzon’s ultimatum we explained to the English workers that at the present moment we, together with them, are not yet strong enough to take up the challenge of Curzon immediately. We bought ourselves off from the ultimatum to avert a diplomatic break, but we laid bare the real relations of classes by a clear presentation of the question; by that, we weakened the reformists, and strengthened our international position as well as the position of the international proletariat.
In Berlin, however, we got absolutely nothing from Chamberlain. The concessions we made to the interests of English capitalism (new crowning of the General Council, principle of “non-interference”, and so forth), were not exchanged for any concession at all on their part (no breaking off of relations, no war). And at the same time, we camouflaged everything by depicting our concessions to capitalism as a triumph of the unity of the working class. Chamberlain received a great deal gratis. The traitors of the General Council received a great deal. We received a – compromise. The international proletariat received – confusion and disorder. English imperialism came out of the Berlin Conference stronger. We came out weaker.
19. But, it is said, to break with the General Council at such a critical moment would mean that we could not so much as live in peace with the organized workers of England; it would give the imperialists a trump card, and so on and so forth.
This argument is false to its very roots. Of course it would have been incomparably more advantageous had we broken with the General Council immediately after its betrayal of the general strike, as the Opposition demanded. The year would then not have been frittered away with doleful gallantries towards the traitors, but would have been used for their merciless exposure. The past year was not lacking in occasions for this. Such a policy would have forced the “Left” capitulators of the General Council to fight for remnants of their reputation, to separate themselves from the Right, to half-expose Chamberlain, in a word, to show the workers that they, the “Left”, are not half as bad as the Moscow people present them. This would have deepened the split in the General Council. And when the swindlers of reformism come to blows, many secrets come to light, and the workers can only gain by it. Such a struggle against the General Council would have been the sharpest form of struggle against the policy of Chamberlain in the labor movement. In this struggle, the revolutionary working class cadres in England would have learned in a year more skillfully to catch the sharpers of the General Council at their swindles and to expose the policy of Chamberlain. English imperialism would have had to face much greater difficulties today. In other words: Had the policy proposed by the Opposition been adopted in June of last year, the international position of the USSR would now be stronger.
Even if belatedly, the break should have been made at least during the miners’ strike, which would have been quite clear to the million miners, as well as the millions of workers betrayed in the general strike. But our proposals in this respect were rejected as incompatible with the interests of the international trade union movement. The consequences are well known. They were registered in Berlin. Today it is declared that the radically false line which already caused so much harm must be maintained in the future as well because of the difficulties of the international situation, which means in essence that the international position of the USSR is being sacrificed in order to conceal the errors of the leadership. All the new theories of Bukharin have no other meaning.
20. A correction of the errors now, even after a year’s delay, would only be of benefit and not detriment. Chamberlain will say, of course, that the Bolsheviks are not able to maintain peace with his trade unionists. But every honest and even partly conscious English worker will say: the far too patient Bolsheviks, who did not even break with the General Council during our strikes, could no longer maintain any friendship with it when it refused to struggle against the suppression of the Chinese revolution and the new war that is being hatched by Chamberlain. The putrid decorations of the Berlin Anglo-Russian Committee will be cast aside. The workers will see the real facts, the real relationships. Who will lose thereby? Imperialism, which needs putrid decorations! The USSR and the international proletariat will gain.
21. But let us return again to the latest theory of Bukharin. In contradiction to Tomsky, Bukharin says, as we know, that the Berlin decisions are not the policy of the united front, but an exception to it evoked by exceptional circumstances.
What are these circumstances? The war danger, that is, the most important question of imperialist policy and the policy of the world proletariat. This fact alone must forthwith compel the attention of every revolutionist. It would appear from this that revolutionary policy serves for more or less “normal” conditions; but when we stand before a question of life or death, the revolutionary policy must be substituted by a policy of compromise.
When Kautsky justified the iniquity of the Second International in 1914, he thought up the post facto theory that the International was an instrument of peace but not of war. In other words, Kautsky proclaimed that the struggle against the bourgeois state is normal, but that an exception must be made under the ‘exceptional conditions” of war, and a bloc made with the bourgeois government, while we continue to “criticize” it in the press.
For the international proletariat it is now a question not only of the struggle against the bourgeois state, but of the direct defense of a workers’ state. But it is precisely the interests of this defense that demand of the international proletariat not a weakening but a sharpening of the struggle against the bourgeois state. The war danger can only be averted or postponed for the proletariat by the real danger to the bourgeoisie that the imperialist war can be transformed into a civil war. In other words, the war danger does not demand a passing over from the revolutionary policy to a policy of compromise, but on the contrary, a firmer, more energetic, more irreconcilable execution of the revolutionary policy. War poses all questions forcefully. It admits of evasions and half measures infinitely less than does a state of peace. If the bloc with the Purcells who betrayed the general strike was a hindrance in peaceful times, in times of war danger it is a millstone around the neck of the working class.
If one admits that the turning back from Bolshevism to opportunism is justified by circumstances on which the life and death of the workers’ state depend, then one capitulates in principle to opportunism: for what value has a revolutionary policy that must be abandoned under the most critical circumstances?
22. In general, can the trade unions be utilized at one time in the interests of international class policy, and at another time for any sort of alleged diplomatic aims? Can such a situation he established where the same representatives of the CPSU, the Comintern, and the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions say at one moment that the General Council is a traitor and strike-breaker, and at another time that it is a friend with whom we are in hearty accord? Is it sufficient to whisper secretly that the former must be understood in the revolutionary class sense and the latter in a diplomatic sense? Can such a policy he spoken of seriously? Can one speak seriously to people who propose and defend such a policy?
After the Berlin Conference, the word “traitor”, as used for a Menshevik agent of the bourgeoisie, became terribly cheap. But such expressions as “hearty accord”, “mutual understanding” and “unanimity” (the words of comrade Tomsky), became equally cheap. Who benefits by this unusually artful combination of methods? It does not deceive our enemy for a moment. It only confuses our friends and reduces the weight of our own words and deeds.
23. The new theory of Bukharin is not at isolated one. On the one hand, we are told that the unprincipled agreement with the notoriously treasonable General Council allegedly facilitated the defense of the USSR. On the other hand, we hear ever more loudly that the building of workers and peasants’ Soviets in China would be a threat to the defense of the USSR. Doesn’t this mean turning the foundations of Bolshevist policy upside down? Workers’ and peasants’ Soviets in China would signify a magnificent extension of the Soviet front and the strengthening of our world position. The agreement with the General Council signifies on the contrary a weakening of the internal contradictions in England and the greatest facility to Chamberlain in his work of brigandage against China and against us.
Once it is admitted that Soviets in China are harmful to our international position, but that the General Council is useful, then the recognition of the principle of “non-interference” is essentially correct; but then supplementary conclusions must be drawn, at least with regard to Amsterdam. One can be sure that these conclusions will be drawn today or tomorrow, if not by Bukharin himself then by someone else. The new principle of opportunist exceptions “in particularly important cases’ can find a broad application. The orientation on the opportunist chiefs of the labor movement will be motivated everywhere by the necessity of avoiding intervention. The possibility of building socialism in one country will serve to justify the principle of “noninterference”. That is how the various ends will be knotted together into a noose that will strangle to death the revolutionary principles of Bolshevism. An end must be made to this once and for all!
We must make up for lost time. A broad and politically clear international campaign against war and imperialism is necessary. Our bloc with the General Council is now the principal obstacle in the road of this campaign, just as our bloc with Chiang Kai-Shek was the chief obstacle in the road of the development of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution in China and, because of that, was utilized by the bourgeois counter-revolution against us. The more acute the international situation becomes, the more the Anglo-Russian Committee will be transformed into an instrument of British and international imperialism against us. After all that has happened, only he can fail to understand who does not want to understand. We have already wasted far too much time. It would be a crime to lose even another day.
Last updated on: 15.4.2007