Leon Trotsky

The Groupings in the
Communist Opposition [1]

(31 March 1929)

Source: From the Arsenal of Marxism, Fourth International, Vol.1 No.2, June 1940, pp.60-62.
Republished: A Documentary History of the Fourth International, Fourth International, Vol.4 No.5, May 1946, pp.154-156.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons License.

Dear Friends:

I am still deprived of the possibility of working systematically. As yet I am far from adequately acquainted with the publications of the European oppositional groups. I am therefore compelled to postpone until later a general evaluation of the tendencies within the Opposition. We are headed toward such difficult times that every actual and even every potential co-thinker should be prized by us. It would be an impermissible mistake to repel a single co-thinker, all the more so a group of co-thinkers because of a careless evaluation, biased criticism or any exaggeration of the differences in opinion.

Nevertheless, I believe it is absolutely indispensable to submit a few general considerations which are in my opinion decisive in evaluating this or that group or tendency within the Opposition.

The Opposition is now taking shape on the basis of a principled ideological differentiation and not of mass activity. This corresponds to the character of the present period. Similar processes occurred in the ranks of the Russian Social-Democracy during the years of the counter-revolution and among the world Social-Democracies during the war time. Mass activity as a rule submerges secondary and episodic differences of opinion and aids the fusion of friendly and close tendencies. Ideological groupings in periods of stagnation or ebb, on the contrary, always tend sharply towards differentiation, splits, internal struggles. We cannot jump out of the period in which we live. We must pass through it. A clear, precise ideological differentiation is unquestionably necessary. It supplies the foundation for future successes.

The general line of the Comintern leadership has more than once been defined by us as centrism. It is self-evident that centrism, moreover a centrism equipped with an arsenal of repressions, must drive into opposition not only all consistent proletarian elements but also the more consistent opportunists.

Opportunism in the Communist movement expresses itself as an urge to reestablish under present-day conditions the pre-war Social-Democracy. This is most graphically revealed in Germany. The present Social-Democracy is infinitely far from being the party of Bebel. But history testifies to the fact that Bebel’s party became transformed into the present Social Democracy – which means that Bebel’s party had already become completely inadequate in the pre-war era. All the more hopeless are any attempts to resurrect Bebel’s party or even a left wing of that party in the present conditions. Yet, insofar as I am able to judge, Brandler, Thalheimer and their friends direct their efforts primarily toward this end. Souvarine in France gravitates less consistently but nonetheless apparently in the same direction.

There are, in my opinion, three classic questions which provide a decisive criterion for appraising the tendencies of world communism. These questions are:

  1. The policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee.

  2. The course of the Chinese Revolution.

  3. The economic policy of the USSR in connection with the theory of socialism in one country.

Some comrades may perhaps feel astonished that I do not mention here the questions of party regime. I do so not through oversight but very deliberately. A party regime has no independent self-sufficient meaning. A party regime is a derivative magnitude in relation to party policy. The struggle against Stalinist bureaucratism evokes sympathy among the most heterogeneous elements. The Mensheviks too are not averse to applauding at this or that attack directed by us against the bureaucracy. This provides the basis incidentally for the stupid charlatanism of the Stalinists who try to make out our position as close to the position of the Mensheviks. For a Marxist, democracy within a party as well as within a country is never an abstraction. Democracy is always conditioned by the struggle of living class forces. Opportunist elements, one and all, understand by the term "bureaucratism" nothing else but revolutionary centralism. It is self-evident that they cannot be our co-thinkers. Apparent solidarity has for its basis here only ideological confusion or, what is far more frequent, malicious imputation.

(1). On the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee I have had occasion to write a great deal. I do not know just what has been published abroad. I am informed that rumors have been spread abroad that I had presumably opposed the breaking up of the Anglo-Russian Committee and agreed to it only as a concession to Zinoviev and Kamenev. Just the contrary is true. The Stalinist policy in the Anglo-Russian question will forever remain as a classic model of the politics of centrism shifting to the right, holding the stirrups for avowed fakers and being rewarded by them with a kick in the mouth. The Chinese and Russian questions because of the peculiar conditions in China and Russia present great difficulties to European communists. It is otherwise with respect to the question of the political bloc with the heads of the English trade unions. Here we confront the fundamental problem of European politics. The Stalinist course in this question constitutes the most flagrant, the most cynical, and the most disastrous trampling under foot of the fundamentals of Bolshevism and the theoretical ABC of Marxism. The experiment of the Anglo-Russian Committee reduced to almost zero the educational value of the great 1926 strikes and retarded the development of the English working class movement for a number of years to come. Any one failing at this late date to understand this is no Marxist, no revolutionary politician of the proletariat It is of no moment in my opinion that such an individual protests against Stalinist bureaucratism. The opportunist course of the Anglo-Russian Committee was possible only through waging a struggle against the genuine revolutionary elements of the working class. And this in its turn was inconceivable except through suppressions and repressions, especially in a party with so revolutionary a past as the Bolshevik party.

(2). On the Chinese question I have also written a great deal in the last few years. I may perhaps succeed in publishing what I have written in a special volume. The study of the problems of the Chinese revolution is an indispensable condition for the education of the Opposition and for the ideological differentiation in its ranks. Those elements that have not yet taken a clearly defined position upon this question reveal thereby a nationalist narrow-mindedness which is itself an infallible symptom of opportunism.

(3). Finally, the Russian question. Due to the conditions created by the October revolution, three classic tendencies of socialism: (a) the Marxist tendency; (b) the centrist tendency; and (c) the opportunist tendency are most clearly and graphically expressed, that is, filled with irrefutable social content, under the Soviet conditions. In the USSR we see the right wing inter-twined with the skilled intelligentsia and the small proprietors; the center balancing itself between the classes on the tight-rope of the apparatus; and the left wing representing the vanguard of the proletarian vanguard in the epoch of reaction. By this I do not of course mean to say that the left wing has been immune from error or that we can dispense with serious and open internal criticism. But this criticism must have a clear class basis, namely, one of the above-mentioned three historical tendencies. Any attempt to deny the existence of these tendencies and their class character, any attempt to rise above them will inevitably terminate in a pitiful debacle. This road is most frequently taken by right wing elements who have not yet definitely crystallized or who do not wish to frighten their own left whig prematurely.

Brandler and Thalheimer, so far as I know, during all these years have held that the policy of the Central Committee of the CPSU on economic questions was absolutely correct. That is how matters stood prior to the Stalinist left zigzag. In the nature of things they must now sympathize with the policy which was most openly conducted hi 1924-1927, and which is represented today by the wing of Rykov, Bukharin and the rest. Souvarine apparently likewise tends in this direction.

Naturally I cannot here raise the economic question of the USSR in its full scope. What is stated in our platform remains wholly valid. We could only profit if the Right Opposition were to give a clear and precise criticism of our platform on this question. To facilitate this work for them, I shall here outline a few basic considerations.

The right-wingers consider that the present difficulties could be surmounted if more play were given to individual peasant economy. I do not undertake to deny this. Placing a stake on the capitalist farmer (the Europeanized or Americanized "kulak") will indubitably bear its fruits, but these will be capitalist fruits which would at one of the very next stages lead to the political collapse of the Soviet power. Reliance upon the capitalist farmer in 1924-1926 passed through only its initial stages. Yet it led to bolstering in the extreme the self-confidence of the urban and rural petty-burgeoisie; it led to their capturing many of the rank and file Soviets; it raised the power and the self-confidence of the bureaucracy; increased the pressure on the workers, and brought the complete crushing of party democracy. Those who are incapable of understanding the inter-relationship between these factors can in general understand nothing in revolutionary politics. The course toward the capitalist farmer is absolutely incompatible with the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is necessary to choose.

Let us however take the purely economic aspect of the question. Between industry and peasant economy there is a dialectic inter-action. But the motor force is industry, which is an infinitely more dynamic beginning. The peasant needs manufactured goods in exchange for bread. The democratic revolution under the leadership of the Bolsheviks gave the peasant land. The socialist revolution under the same leadership still gives the peasant less goods and at a higher price than did capitalism in its day.

Precisely for this reason the socialist revolution hi contrast to its democratic base is endangered. To the scarcity of manufactured goods the peasant replies with a passive agricultural strike – he does not bring to the market the grain already hi his possession nor does he increase the area sowed. The right wing considers that it is necessary to allow more play for the capitalist tendencies in the village; to take less from the village and to lower the tempo of industrial development. But this implies that the quantity of agricultural products on the market would increase while the quantity of the manufactured goods decreases still further. The disproportion between them which is at the bottom, of the present economic crisis would be further aggravated. A possible way out would be exporting the farmer’s grain and hi return importing finished European products for the farmer, i.e., the richer peasants. In other words, this means instead of a smychka (working alliance) between the cooperative peasant economy and the socialist industry the establishment of a smychka between exporting farmer economy and world capitalism. The state is transformed not into the builder of socialist economy but into an intermediary between domestic and world capitalism. There cannot be any doubt that these two partners would quickly elbow this intermediary aside, beginning of course with the monopoly of foreign trade. For, a free development of farmer economy, receiving from abroad everything it requires m return for grain exports, presupposes free commodity exchange and not foreign commerce monopolized by the state.

The right-wingers sometimes say that Stalin has applied the platform of the Opposition and demonstrated its inadequacy. Certainly, Stalin became frightened when he bumped his empirical forehead against the consequence of the "farmer" (kulak) course which he so blandly pursued in 1924-1927. Certainly, in making a leap to the left, Stalin utilized segments of the Opposition platform. The platform of the Opposition excludes above all a line towards a self-sufficing isolated economy. It is absurd to try to divorce Soviet economy from the world market by a stone wall. The fate of Soviet economy will be decided by the general tempo of its development (including that of agriculture) and not at all by the degree of its "independence" from the world division of labor. All economic plans of the Stalinist leadership have up to now been erected on the lowering of foreign commerce in the next five to ten years. This cannot be called anything but petty-bourgeois cretinism. Such a posing of the problem has nothing in common with the Opposition. On the contrary it flows wholly from the theory of socialism in one country.

Stalin’s drive to raise industrialization brings bun apparently closer to the Opposition. But only apparently. Socialist industrialization presupposes a great and thoroughly thought-out plan in which the direction of internal development is intimately bound with an ever-increasing utilization of the world market, along with the irreconcilable preservation of the monopoly of foreign trade. Only along this road is it possible – not to liquidate, nor to eliminate, but to mitigate the contradictions of socialist development in a capitalist encirclement; to reinforce the economic power of the Soviet republic, improve the economic relations between the city and the village and intrench the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Stalinist policy of empirical zigzags only worsens the situations.

These are the three basic criteria for the internal differentiation of the Opposition. These three criteria are taken from the life of three countries. Naturally, each of the other countries has problems of its own, and the attitude towards them will determine the position of each individual group and every individual communist. Some of these new questions may tomorrow come to the forefront and make all the others recede to the background. But today the three foregoing questions appear to me to be decisive. Without taking a clear and definitive position on these questions it is impossible to find any place for oneself among the basic groupings of communism.

That is all I have to say now on the questions you pose. Should it prove that owing to my inadequate acquaintance with the available literature I have incorrectly interpreted the position of Brandler, Souvarine, and their co-thinkers, then I shall of course make haste to introduce any correction into my appraisal made necessary by such facts and documents as are called to my attention.

March 31, 1929


1. The following letter, written shortly after he was exiled from Russia to Turkey, is one of Trotsky’s first political documents concerning the internal problems of the Trotskyist Oppositional movement.

The Opposition had not yet been formally established on a world scale. In many countries various individuals, groups, and tendencies professed "sympathy." It was precisely in order to clarify the basis for political collaboration in the Left Opposition that Comrade Trotsky wrote the letter.

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Last updated on: 9.2.2009