Leon Trotsky

The Third International
After Lenin

What Now?

(Part 2)

3. The Policy of 1923-1927

4. Radicalization of the Masses and Question of Leadership

3. The Policy of 1923-1927

Unquestionably, one of the prime motives behind the repeated postponements of the call for the Sixth Congress was the desire to await some great international victory. In such cases, men are apt more easily to forget recent defeats. But no victories were forthcoming, nor is this accidental.

During this period, European and world capitalism found themselves granted a new and serious reprieve. The social democracy strengthened itself considerably after 1923. The communist parties grew insignificantly’in any case, infinitely less than was presaged in the prophecies which inspired the Fifth Congress. We must note that this applies both to the organizations of the Comintern and to their influence among the masses. Taken together, the latter followed a declining curve from the Autumn of 1923 and during the whole period under consideration. It is doubtful if anyone can be found bold enough to assert that the communist parties were able in these four or five years to maintain the continuity and stability of their leadership. On the contrary, these qualities were found to be completely impaired even in the party where they were formerly most guaranteed: in the Communist Party of the USSR.

The Soviet republic made serious progress from the standpoint of economy and culture in the course of the elapsed period, demonstrating to the world for the first time the power and importance of socialist methods of management and especially the great possibilities lodged in them. But these successes developed on the basis of the so-called stabilization of capitalism, which itself was the result of a whole series of defeats of the world revolution. Not only did that considerably worsen the external situation of the Soviet republic, but it exercised a great influence upon the internal relation of forces in a direction hostile to the proletariat.

The fact that the USSR continues to exist, according to Lenin’s expression, as an “isolated frontier in a completely capitalist world,” has led, by virtue of an erroneous leadership, to forms of development of the national economy in which capitalist forces and tendencies have acquired a serious, or, more exactly, an alarming scope. Contrary to optimistic assertions, the internal relation of forces in economy and politics has changed to the disadvantage of the proletariat. Hence, a series of painful crises from which the CPSU has failed to emerge.

The fundamental cause of the crisis of the October Revolution is the retardation of the world revolution, caused by a whole series of cruel defeats of the proletariat. Up to 1923, these were the defeats of post-war movements and insurrections confronted with the non-existence of the communist parties at the beginning, and their youth and weakness subsequently. From 1923 on, the situation changed sharply. The no longer have before us simply defeats of the proletariat, but routs of the policy of the Comintern. The blunders committed by this policy in Germany, England, China, and those of smaller scope which were perpetrated in a whole series of other countries, are of such a nature as cannot be duplicated in the history of the Bolshevik party; to duplicate them, one is forced to examine the history of Menshevism during the years 1905-1917, or the decades preceding.

The retardation in growth of the Comintern is the immediate result of its erroneous policy during the last five years. There is no holding that the “stabilization” is responsible for it, save by conceiving the nature of the latter in a purely scholastic way, and particularly by trying to dodge the responsibility. The stabilization did not fall from the sky; it is not the fruit of an automatic change in the living conditions of world capitalist economy. It is the result of an unfavorable change in the political relation of class forces. The proletariat saw its forces drained by the capitulation of the leadership in Germany in 1923; it was tricked and betrayed in England by a leadership with which the Comintern continued to maintain a bloc in 1926; in China, the policy of the Executive Committee of the Comintern drove the proletariat into the noose of the Kuomintang in 1925-1927. These are the immediate and indisputable causes of the defeats, and what is no less important, these are the reasons for the demoralizing character of these failures. To try to prove that the defeats were inevitable even if the policy followed had been correct, is to fall into depraved fatalism and to renounce the Bolshevik conception of the role and importance of a revolutionary leadership.

The rout of the proletariat, conditioned by a false policy, provided the bourgeoisie with a respite from the political point of view. The bourgeoisie utilized the respite to consolidate its economic positions. These are the causes which furnished the point of departure for the period of stabilization that began on the day in October 1923 when the German Communist Party capitulated. To be sure, the consolidation of its economic positions obtained by the bourgeoisie acts in its turn as a “stabilizing” factor upon the political environment. But the fundamental cause of the ascendancy of capitalism during the period of stabilization of the last five years lies in the fact that the leadership of the Comintern did not measure up to the events from any point of view. Revolutionary situations were not lacking. But the leaders were chronically incapable of taking advantage of them. This defect is not of a personal or accidental character; it is the inevitable consequence of the Centrist course, which may camouflage its inconsistency during a period of lull but ineluctably brings about catastrophes during the abrupt changes of a revolutionary period.

The internal evolution of the USSR and of the leading party reflected completely the shifts in the international situation, thus refuting by example the new reactionary theories of isolated development and of socialism in one country. Naturally, the course of the leadership within the USSR was the same as that of the ECCI: Centrism sliding to the Right. In the internal policy, as well as on the international arena, it caused the same profound harm, weakening the economic and political positions of the proletariat.

In order to understand the significance of the turn to the Left now being effected, it is necessary to become completely and clearly cognizant not only of the general line of conduct swerving into Right Centrism, which was completely unmasked in 1926-27, but also the course during the preceding period of ultra-leftism of 1923-25 which prepared the backsliding. It is thus a matter of passing judgement on the five years after Lenin’s death, during which, under the pressure of hostile class forces and because of the instability and short-sightedness of the leadership, there ensued a correction, a modification, and an actual revision of Leninism in the matter both of internal and international problems.

As early as the Twelfth Congress of the CPSU, in the Spring of 1923, two positions stood out clearly on the issue of the economic problems of the Soviet Union; they developed during the five following years and may be checked in the light of the crisis in grain collections during the past winter. The Central Committee held that the principal danger threatening the alliance with the peasantry arose from a premature development of industry; it found confirmation of this point of view in the supposed “selling crisis” of the Autumn of 1923. Despite the episodic character of this crisis, it left a deep impression on the economic policy of the official leadership. The point of view which I had developed at the Twelfth Congress (Spring of 1923) advanced tile contrary estimate, that the essential danger threatening the “smychka” and the dictatorship of the proletariat lay in the “scissors” symbolizing the divergence between the prices of agricultural and industrial products, reflecting the backwardness of industry; the continuation, and even more so the accentuation, of this disproportion, would inevitably bring about a differentiation in agriculture and handicrafts and a general growth of capitalist forces. I had already developed this point of view very clearly as early as the Twelfth Congress. At that time I also formulated the idea, among others, that if industry remained backward, good harvests would become a mainspring for capitalist and not socialist tendencies; they would deliver into the hands of capitalist elements an instrument for disorganizing socialist economy.

These fundamental formulas presented by the two sides subsequently cut across the struggle of the succeeding five years. During these years, accusations, absurd and reactionary in their essence, continually resounded against the Opposition, declaring that “it is afraid of the muzhik,” that “it fears a good crop,” that “it fears the enrichment of the village,” or better yet, that “it wishes to plunder the peasant.” Thus, as early as the Twelfth Congress, and especially during the discussion of Autumn 1923, the official faction rejected class criteria and operated with notions like “peasantry” in general, “good crop” in general, “enrichment” in general. In this manner of treating the question, there was already making itself felt the pressure of new bourgeois layers, which were forming on the base of the NEP, which were connecting themselves with the state apparatus, which resisted repression and sought to evade the rays of the Leninist searchlight.

Events of an international order acquired a decisive importance in this process. The second half of 1923 was a period of tense expectation of the proletarian revolution in Germany.

The situation was evaluated at too late a date and in a hesitant way. Great friction was generated within the official Stalin-Zinoviev leadership; true, it remained within the framework of the common Centrist line. Despite all warnings, a change in tempo was undertaken only at the last moment; everything ended in a frightful capitulation by the leadership of the German Communist Party, which surrendered the decisive positions to the enemy without a struggle.

This defeat was of an alarming character in itself. But it acquired even more painful significance because the leadership of the ECCI, which in a very large measure caused this defeat by its policy of lagging at the tail of events, did not understand the extent of the rout, did not comprehend its great depth, simply failed to recognize it.

The leadership obstinately insisted that the revolutionary situation was continuing to develop and that decisive battles were going to be waged shortly. It is on the basis of this radically false evaluation that the Fifth Congress established its orientation towards the middle of 1924.

As against this, the Opposition, during the second half of 1923, sounded the alarm on the political denouément which was approaching, demanded a course truly directed towards armed insurrection, and insistently warned that in such historic moments, a few weeks, and sometimes a few days, decide the fate of the revolution for many years to come. On the other hand, during the following six months which preceded the Fifth Congress, the Opposition persistently repeated that the revolutionary situation was already missed; that sail had to be taken in, in expectation of contrary and unfavorable winds, that it was not the insurrection that was on the agenda, but defensive battles against an enemy which has assumed the offensive’uniting the masses for partial demands, creating points of support in the trade unions, etc.

But the clear understanding of what had taken place and what was imminent was branded as “Trotskyism,” and condemned as “liquidationism.” The Fifth Congress demonstratively oriented towards insurrection in the presence of a political ebb-tide. With a single stroke it disoriented all the communist parties by sowing confusion among them.

The year 1924, the year of the abrupt and clear swing towards stabilization, became the year of adventures in Bulgaria and in Esthonia, of the ultra-left course in general, which ran counter to the march of events with increasingly greater force. From this time dates the beginning of the quest for ready-made revolutionary forces outside the proletariat, whence the idealization of pseudo-peasant parties in various countries, the flirtation with Radic and LaFollette, the exaggeration of the role of the Peasant International to the detriment of the Red Trade Union International, the false evaluation of the English trade union leadership, a friendship above classes with the Kuomintang, etc. All of these crutches upon which the ultra-left course adventurously sought to support itself, subsequently became the principal pillars of the obviously Rightward course, which replaced the former after the ultra-leftists no longer found themselves faced with the situations that crashed against the process of stabilization of 1924-25.

The defeat of the German proletariat was the shock which precipitated a discussion in the Autumn of 1923 that had as its task, according to the conception of the official leadership of the CPSU, to approve as an internal policy the course of passive adaptation to spontaneous economic developments (struggle against. “super-industrialization,” ridicule of the planning principle, etc.). So far as international problems were concerned, the most important thing was to conceal the fact that the most assured of revolutionary situations had been missed.

Nevertheless, the fact of the rout of the German proletariat had penetrated the consciousness of the masses, which had been brought to high tension by the anxious waiting of 1923. The capitulation of the German leadership introduced into the ranks of the workers, not only in Germany but in the USSR as well, and also in other countries, elements of bitter skepticism towards the world revolution in general. The defeats in Bulgaria and Esthonia then came to add to this. Towards the middle of 1925, it finally became necessary to admit officially the existence of the stabilization (a year and a half after it visibly began); that was done at a time when profound fissures were already being produced in it (in England, in China). A certain disappointment in the world revolution, which likewise partly seized the masses, pushed the Centrist leadership towards strictly national perspectives, which were soon wretchedly crowned by the theory of socialism in one country.

The ultra-Leftism of 1924-1925, incapable of understanding the situation, was all the more brutally supplanted by a shift to the Right, which under the star of the theory of “not leaping over stages,” brought the policy of adaptation to the colonial bourgeoisie, to the petty bourgeois democracy and the trade union bureaucracy, to the kulaks, baptized as “powerful middle peasants,” and to the functionaries, in the name of “order” and of “discipline.”

The Right-Centrist policy which kept up appearances of Bolshevism in secondary questions was carried away by the flood-tide of great events and found its strictly Menshevik and devastating coronation in the question of the Chinese revolution and the Anglo-Russian Committee. Never in the course of all revolutionary history had Centrism until then described the rising and declining curve to such perfection; it is to be doubted that it will ever again be able to describe a similar one, for in this case it had at its disposal the powerful resources of the Comintern in the material domain and in that of ideas; it could arm itself in advance against any resistance, and against all criticism, too, by means of all the resources which the proletarian state had at its disposal.

The objective consequences of the policy of the ECCI provided new mainsprings which fed the stabilization, still further postponed the revolution, and tremendously aggravated the international position of the USSR

*  *  *

It was in the course of the struggle of the two tendencies which began in 1923 that the question of the tempo of socialist construction which, from the standpoint of theory, bound into a solid knot the divergences of views in internal and international questions.

The official leadership, deceived by the illusions of the period of reconstruction (1923-1927) which was effected on the basis of capital ready to hand, taken from the bourgeoisie, slid further and further towards the position of isolated economic development as a goal in itself. And it is precisely upon this grossest of errors that, thanks to the blows dealt by the international defeats, there subsequently grew up the theory of socialism in a single country. Rupture with world economy was preached precisely at the moment when the conclusion of the period of reconstruction made the need of connection with world economy increasingly imperative.

The question of the tempo of our economic development was not posed at all by the official leadership. This leadership did not in the slightest understand that Soviet economy was regulated all the more rigidly by the world market in proportion as it was obliged to link up with this market through export and import trade.

When we insistently pointed out that the tempo of Soviet construction is conditioned by world economy and world politics, the directors and inspirers of the official line replied to us: “There is no need to inject the international factor into our socialist development” (Stalin), or on the other hand: “We will construct socialism if it be only at a snail’s pace” (Bukharin). If one is not afraid to follow this idea logically to its conclusion, that is to say, that there is “no need to inject the international factor” into the question of the tempo of our economic development, one will see that it means simply that there is no need to “inject” the Comintern into the fate of the October Revolution, for the Comintern is nothing else than the revolutionary expression of the “international factor.” But the point is that Centrism never pursues its ideas to their end.

The question of tempo is obviously of decisive importance not only in economics but especially in politics, which is “concentrated economics.”

If in internal affairs we were being retarded because of the wrong way of approaching economy, retarding it to an ever greater degree from fear of too great an advance, then, on the contrary, in the face of the problems of the international revolution, the systematic loss of tempo was due to Centrist incapacity to estimate in full the revolutionary situation and to take advantage of it at the critical moments. To be sure, it would be vain pedantry to state that the German proletariat, guided by a correct leadership, would certainly have conquered and held power; or that the English proletariat, if the leadership had seen correctly, would certainly have overthrown the General Council and thus considerably hastened the hour of proletarian victory; or that the Chinese proletariat, had it not been deceived by being forced under the banner of the Kuomintang, would have brought the agrarian revolution to a victorious conclusion and would certainly have seized the power by leading the poor peasants after it. But the door was open to these three eventualities, and in Germany – wide open. As against this, the leadership acted counter to the class struggle, strengthened the enemy at the expense of its own class and thus did everything to guarantee defeat.

The question of tempo is decisive in every struggle and all the more so in a struggle on a world scale. The fate of the Soviet republic cannot be separated from that of the world revolution. No one has placed centuries or even many decades at our disposal so that we may use them as we please. The question is settled by the dynamics of the struggle, in which the enemy profits by each blunder, each oversight, and occupies every inch of undefended territory. Without a correct economic policy, the proletarian dictatorship in the USSR will crumble, mill be unable to endure long enough to be saved from without, and will thereby inflict infinite damage upon the international proletariat. Without a correct policy of the Comintern, the world revolution will be delayed for an indefinite historical period; but it is time that decides. What is lost by the international revolution is gained by the bourgeoisie. The construction of socialism is a contest between the Soviet state and not only the internal bourgeoisie, but also the world bourgeoisie, a contest waged on the basis of the world-wide class struggle. If the bourgeoisie is able to wrest a new large historic period from the world proletariat, it will, by basing itself on the powerful preponderance of its technology, of its wealth, of its army and its navy, overthrow the Soviet dictatorship; the question whether it will attain this by economic, political, or military means, or a combination of the three, is of secondary importance.

Time is a decisive factor, not merely an important one. It is not true that we will be able to build “complete socialism,” if the Comintern continues the policy which found its expression in the capitulation of the German party in 1923, in the Esthonian putsch in 1924, in the ultra-left errors of 1924-1925, in the infamous comedy of the Angle-Russian Committee of 1926, in the uninterrupted series of blunders which doomed the Chinese revolution of 1925-1927. The theory of socialism in one country accustoms us to regard these errors with indulgence, as if we had all the time we want at our disposal. A profound error! Time is a decisive factor in politics, especially in periods of sharp historic turns, when a life-and-death struggle between two systems is unfolding. We must dispose of time with the greatest economy: the Comintern will not survive five years of mistakes like those which have been committed by its leadership since 1923. It holds, thanks to the attraction that the October Revolution exercises over the masses, the banner of Marx and Lenin; but it has been living during the course of the last period on its basic capital. The Communist International will not survive five more years of similar mistakes. But, if the Comintern crumbles, neither will the USSR long endure. The bureaucratic psalms announcing that socialism has been nine-tenths realized in our country (Stalin) will then appear as stupid verbiage. Certainly, even in this case the proletarian revolution would be able in the end to pioneer new roads to victory. But when? And at the price of what sacrifices and countless victims? The new generation of international revolutionists would have to tie up anew the broken threads of continuity and conquer anew the confidence of the masses in the greatest banner in history, which may be compromised by an uninterrupted chain of mistakes, upheavals, and falsifications in the domain of ideas.

These words must be said clearly and distinctly to the international proletarian vanguard, without in the least fearing the inevitable howlings, screechings, and persecutions on the part of those whose optimism survives only because they shut their eyes out of cowardice so as not to see the reality.

That is why, for us, the policy of the Comintern dominates all other questions. Without a correct international policy, all the possible economic successes in the USSR will not save the October Revolution and will not lead to socialism. To speak more exactly: without a correct international policy, there can be no correct policy in internal affairs either, for the line is one. The false way in which the chairman of a Soviet district committee approaches the kulak is only a small link in the chain whose largest links are constituted by the attitude of the Red trade unions towards the General Council, or of the Central Committee of the CPSU towards Chiang Kai-shek and Purcell.

The stabilization of the European bourgeoisie, the strengthening of the social democracy, the retardation in the growth of the communist parties, the strengthening of capitalist tendencies in the USSR, the shift to the Right of the policy of the leadership of the CPSU and of the Comintern, the bureaucratization of the entire regime, the rabid campaign against the Left wing, driven into the Opposition all these processes are indissolubly bound together, characterizing a period of weakening, certainly provisional, but deep-going, of the positions of the proletarian revolution, a period of pressure exerted by enemy forces upon the proletarian vanguard.

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4. Radicalization of the Masses and Question of Leadership

The February Plenum of the ECCI (1928) made an undeniable attempt at a Leftward turn, that is to say, towards the opinions defended by the Opposition, on two questions of paramount importance: the policy of the English and French Communist Parties. One might attribute a decisive importance, and not merely a symptomatic one, to this turn, despite all its incoherence, if it had been accompanied by the application of the fundamental rule of Lenin’s strategy: condemn a false policy in order to pave the way for a correct policy. The united front in France, in Germany, and in other countries was directed along the lines of the Anglo-Russian Committee. The course of the latter was almost as disastrous for the English Communist Party as was the course of the Kuomintang for the Chinese Communist Party.

As far as the resolution on the Chinese question is concerned, not only does it sanctify all the errors committed but it prepares for new ones which are no less cruel.

The resolution of the February Plenum on the Russian question is a far better mirror of the regime of the Comintern than any one political line. It will suffice to state that this resolution contains the following assertion:

“The Trotskyists, together with the social democracy, are banking on the overthrow of the power of the Soviets.” [2]

Men who out of docility raise their hands to vote for such affirmations without believing a single word (for only a complete idiot can believe that the Opposition is banking on the overthrow of the power of the Soviets), such men do not always find the courage, as experience testifies, to raise their hands in a determined struggle against the class enemy.

Taken altogether, the February Plenum symbolizes a contradictory attempt at a Left turn. From the political point of view this attempt is conditioned upon an undeniable shift that is taking place in the mood of the great working class masses, principally in Europe and especially in Germany. There can be no talk of a correct leadership without a clear understanding of the character of this shift and the perspectives that it opens.

In his speech, or rather in the broadside of insults which he flung at the Opposition, Thalmann stated at the February Plenum of the ECCI:

“The Trotskyists fail to perceive the radicalization of the international working class and do not notice that the situation is becoming more and more revolutionary.” [3]

Then he passes, as is customary, to the ritualistic demonstration which seeks to prove that together with Hilferding we are burying the world revolution. One might ignore these puerile tales, if what were involved here were not the second largest party of the Comintern, represented in the ECCI by Thälmann. What is this radicalization of the working class which the Opposition fails to perceive? It is what ThÄalmann and many others with him had likewise termed as “radicalization” in 1921, in 1925, in 1926, and in 1927. The decline in influence of the communist party after its capitulation in 1923 and the growth of the social democracy did not exist for them. They did not even ask themselves what were the causes of these phenomena. It is difficult to speak to a man who does not want to learn the first letters of the political alphabet. Unfortunately it is not solely a, question of ThÄlmann; he is not even of any importance by himself. Nor is Semard. The Third Congress was a real school of revolutionary strategy. It taught how to differentiate. That is the first condition, no matter what the job. There are periods of high-tide and periods of ebb-tide. But the former and the latter pass in turn through various phases of development. It is necessary from the point of view of tactic, to adapt the policy of each of these stages being experienced, while maintaining at the same time the general line of conduct in its orientation towards the conquest of power and being always prepared, so as not to be taken unawares by a sharp change in the situation. The Fifth Congress turned topsy-turvy the lessons of the Third. It turned its back to the objective situation; it substituted for analysis of events an agitational rubber-stamp: “The working class is becoming more and more radicalized, the situation is becoming more and more revolutionary.”

In reality, it is only during the past year that the German working class has begun to recover from the consequences of the 1923 defeat. The Opposition was the first to notice it. In a document published by us, from which Thälmann quoted, we state the following:

“An undeniable shift to the Left is occurring in the European working class. It is manifesting itself in a sharpening of the strike struggles and a growth in the number of communist votes. But this is only the first stage in the shift. The number of social democratic voters is increasing, parallel with the growth of the communist votes, and in part outstripping the latter. If this process develops and deepens, we will enter the following phase, when the shift will begin, from the social democracy to communism. [4]

In so far as the data relating to the latest elections in Germany and in France permit us to judge, the above evaluation of the condition of the European working class, especially the German, can be regarded almost as beyond dispute. Unfortunately the press of the Comintern, including that of the CPSU, furnishes absolutely no analyses which are serious, thorough, documented, illustrated by figures, of the moods and tendencies existing in the proletariat. Statistics, in so far as they are presented, are simply adjusted to a particular tendency having as its aim the preservation of the leadership’s “prestige.” They continually pass in silence over the factual data of exceptional importance which determine the curve of the workers’ movement during the 1923-1928 period if these data refute false judgments and instructions. All this makes it extremely difficult to judge the dynamics of the radicalization of the masses, its tempo, its scope, its possibilities.

Thälmann did not have the slightest right to say to the February Plenum of the ECCI that “... The Trotskyists fail to perceive the radicalization of the international working class.” Not only had we perceived the radicalization of the European proletariat, but in that connection we had established, as early as last year, our evaluation of the conjuncture. The latter was completely confirmed by the May (1928) elections to the Reichstag. The radicalization is passing through its first phase, still directing the masses into the social democratic channels. In February, Thälmann refused to see this; he insisted: “The situation is becoming more and more revolutionary.” In such a general form, this statement is only a hollow phrase. Can one say that “the situation is becoming more and more [?] revolutionary” if the social democracy, the main prop of the bourgeois regime, is growing?

In order to approach a revolutionary situation the “radicalization” of the masses must in any case still pass through a preliminary phase in which the workers will flock from the social democracy to the communist party. Assuredly, as a partial phenomenon, this is already taking place now. But the principal direction of the flow is not yet that at all. To confound an initial stage of radicalization, which is still half-pacifist, half-collaborationist, with a revolutionary stage, is to head towards cruel blunders. It is necessary to learn how to differentiate. Anyone who merely repeats from year to year that “the masses are becoming radicalized, the situation is revolutionary,” is not a Bolshevik leader, but a tub-thumping agitator; it is certain that he will not recognize the revolution when it really approaches.

The social democracy is the chief prop of the bourgeois regime. But this prop contains contradictions within itself. If the workers were passing from the communist party to the social democracy, one could speak with perfect certainty of the consolidation of the bourgeois regime. It was so in 1924. At that time Thalmann and the other leaders of the Fifth Congress were unable to understand it: that is why they replied with insults to our arguments and advice. At present the situation is different. The communist party is growing alongside of the social democracy, but not yet directly at the expense of the latter. The masses are streaming in parallel lines to the two parties; up to now the flow towards the social democracy is the larger. The abandonment of the bourgeois parties by the workers and their awakening from political apathy, which lie at bottom of these processes, obviously do not constitute a strengthening of the bourgeoisie. But neither does the growth of the social democracy constitute a revolutionary situation. It is necessary to learn how to differentiate. How should the present situation be qualified then? It is a transitional situation, containing contradictions, not yet differentiated, still disclosing various possibilities. The subsequent development of this process must be vigilantly watched, without one’s getting drunk on cut and dried phrases, and holding oneself always ready for sharp turns in the situation.

The social democracy is not merely gratified by the growth of the number of its voters; it is following the flood of workers with great anxiety for it creates great difficulties for it. Before the workers begin to pass en masse from the social democracy to the communist party (and the arrival of such a moment is inevitable), we must expect new and great friction inside the social democracy itself, the formation of more deep-going groupings and splits, etc. That will very probably open up the field to active, offensive, tactical operations on the part of the communist party along the line of the “united front” in order to hasten the process of revolutionary differentiation of the masses, that is to say, primarily the pulling away of workers from the social democracy. But woe unto us if the “maneuvers” reduce themselves to the fact that the communist party will again look into the mouth of the “Left” social democrats (and they may still go far to the Left), while waiting for their wisdom teeth to grow. We saw “maneuvers” of this kind practiced on a small scale in Saxony in 1923, and on it large scale in England and China in 1925-1927. In all these cases they led to the missing of the revolutionary situation and to great defeats.

The judgment of Thälmann is not his own; this can be seen from the draft program which states:

“The process of radicalization of the masses which is sharpening, the growth of the influence and of the authority of the communist parties ... all this clearly shows that a new revolutionary wave is mounting in the imperialist centers.”

To the extent that this is a programmatic generalization, it is radically false. The epoch of imperialism and of proletarian revolutions has already known and will again know in the future not only a “process of radicalization which is sharpening,” but also periods when the masses move to the Right; not only of growth of the influence of the communist parties, but also of a temporary decline of that influence, especially in the event of errors, blunders, capitulations. If it is a question of judging from the standpoint of conjucture, more or less true for certain countries, in the given period, but not at all for the entire world, then the place for this judgment is in a resolution and not in a program. The program is written for the entire epoch of proletarian revolutions. Unfortunately, in the course of these five years, the leadership of the Comintern has given no proof of comprehension in matters of dialectic regarding the growth and the disappearance of revolutionary situations. On these subjects it has remained in a permanent scholasticism, treating of “radicalization” without studying in a fundamental way the living stages of the struggle of the world proletariat.

By reason of the defeat experienced by Germany in the course of the great war, the political life of the country was distinguished by the special character of its crises; this placed the German proletarian vanguard in the presence of situations fraught with responsibilities. The defeats of the German proletariat during the five post-war years were immediately due to the extraordinary weakness of the revolutionary party; in the course of the subsequent five years they were due to the errors of the leadership.

In 1918-1919, the revolutionary situation still completely lacked a revolutionary proletarian party. In 1921 when the ebb set in, the communist party which was already fairly strong, attempted to provoke a revolution despite the fact that the immediate premises for it were lacking. The preparatory work (“the struggle for the masses”) which then followed resulted in a Right deviation in the party. The leadership, deprived of revolutionary scope and initiative, suffered shipwreck in the sharp Leftward shift in the whole situation (Autumn of 1923). The Right wing was supplanted by the Left wing, whose domination nevertheless already coincided with the revolutionary ebb. But the Lefts refused to understand it and obstinately maintained “the course towards insurrection.” From that, new errors were born which weakened the party and brought about the overthrow of the Left leadership. The present Central Committee, leaning secretly upon a section of the “Rights,” mercilessly struggled all the time against the Left, repeating all the while mechanically that the masses were becoming radicalized, that the revolution was near.

The history of the evolution of the German Communist Party presents a picture of abrupt alternation of factions assuming power, depending upon the oscillations of the political curve: each directing group, at the time of each abrupt upward or downward turn of the political curve, that is, either towards a provisional “stabilization” or, on the contrary, towards a revolutionary crisis, suffers shipwreck and yields place to the competing group. It so happened that the Right group had as its weakness an incapacity for knowing how, in case of a change in the situation, to switch all activity on to the rails of the revolutionary struggle for the conquest of power. As against this, the weakness of the Left group was due to the fact that it could neither recognize nor understand the necessity of mobilizing the masses for transitional demands, springing from the objective situation during the preparatory period. The weak side of one group was supplemented by the weaknesses of the other. Since the leadership was replaced at the time of each break in the situation, the leading cadres of the party were unable to acquire a wider experience, extending through advance and decline, through flood and ebb, through retreat and attack. A truly revolutionary leadership cannot be educated unless it understands our epoch as an epoch of sudden shifts and sharp turns. The selection of leaders in random fashion, chosen by appointment, inevitably contains within itself the latent danger of a new bankruptcy of the leadership at the very first major social crisis.

To lead means to foresee. It is necessary, in a reasonable interval, to stop flattering Thalmann solely because he grubs in the gutter for the vilest epithets to fling at the Opposition, just as Tang Ping-shan was petted at the Seventh Plenum simply because he translated Thalmann’s insults into Chinese. The German party must be told that the judgment passed by Thalmann in February on the political situation is vulgar, arbitrary, and false. It is necessary to recognize openly the strategic and tactical blunders committed during the last five years and to study them conscientiously before the wounds they caused have had time to heal: strategic lessons can take root only when they follow events step by step. It is necessary to stop replacing party leaders in order to punish them for mistakes committed by the ECCI or because they do not approve of the GPU when it punishes proletarian revolutionists (Belgium). It is necessary to allow the young cadres to stand on their own feet, helping them, but not ordering them about. It is necessary to stop “appointing” heads simply on the basis of their certificates of good behavior (that is to say, if they are against the Opposition). It is necessary once and for all to give up the system of the Central Committees of protection.

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2. Pravda, February 19, 1928.

3. Pravda, February l7, 1928.

4. Trotsky, On the New Stage.

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Last updated on: 14.4.2007