Leon Trotsky

Karl Radek and the Opposition

Written: March 26, 1929.
First Published: The Militant, New York, Vol. 2, No. 12, August 1, 1929.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters.
Public Domain: This work is in the under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists’ Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

During the last few weeks there has been considerable talk in the world press about the “disintegration” of the Russian Opposition, and Comrade Radek has often been called the leader of the group that is joining Stalin. The uninformed—and they are the majority in the West—may conclude from this that Radek has only lately turned from the Opposition to the apparatus centrists. In reality, Comrade Radek’s vacillation has been going on for about a year and a half. It would be still more correct to say that Comrade Radek’s path, from the year 1923, has crossed with the line of the Opposition only to turn from it to the right or to the left—mostly to the right—and then again to meet with it. Up till 1926 Radek held that it would be impossible to carry through any economic policy other than that of Stalin and Bukharin. Up till 1927 Radek was under the illusion that it would be possible to collaborate with Brandler and his group. Radek was against the Chinese Communist Party leaving the Kuomintang. After the British general strike, Radek was against the dissolution of the Anglo-Russian Committee. After the right and left Kuomintang had betrayed the revolution, Radek was against the slogan of the proletarian dictatorship and for that of the “democratic” dictatorship, interpreting that slogan in the same way Stalin, Bukharin, and Martynov did. In 1923–24 Radek argued that the theory of the permanent revolution was basically the same as Lenin’s strategic line. In 1928 he attempted to establish a complete contradiction on this question between Lenin and Trotsky. He had to repeat, with minor reservations, Zinoviev’s hackneyed arguments. On the other hand, on the question of Thermidor and two parties, Radek took an ultraleft position in 1927. He attempted several times to proclaim that Thermidor had already been “accomplished.” For a time he refused to sign the platform only because it stood too categorically for a single party. There is nothing unnatural in this combination of ultraleft conclusions and right premises. On the contrary, the history of the Comintern is replete with such combinations. Nor is there anything unnatural in Radek’s moving so easily from ultraleft deductions on the question of Thermidor and two parties to the road of unprincipled conciliation toward the left-centrist zigzag. We have seen in other countries, particularly in Germany, how easily people who have accused the Russian Opposition of “not going far enough,” and who have proclaimed dozens of times that Thermidor was already “accomplished,” move with their light baggage to the camp of the Social Democrats.

To be sure, none of us means to put Radek on the same plane as these weather-vanes. Radek has to his credit a quarter of a century of revolutionary Marxist work. Not only is he incapable of supporting the Social Democrats, but it is doubtful that he can join the Stalinists. At any rate, he will not be able to live with them. He is too much of a Marxist for that, and, above all, too much of an internationalist. Radek’s misfortune lies where his strength does: in his excessive impulsiveness.

Radek is unquestionably one of the best Marxist journalists in the world. It is not only the precision and strength of his style. No, it is first of all his ability to react with amazing quickness to new phenomena and tendencies and even to their first symptoms. This is Radek’s strong point. But the strength of a journalist becomes a source of weakness in a politician. Radek exaggerates and anticipates too much. He uses a yardstick when it is only a matter of inches. Therefore he almost always finds himself to the right or to the left—much more often to the right—of the correct line.

As long as we lived in Moscow, Radek’s impulsiveness was often of service to the Opposition. At almost every session he would bring up suggestions for decisive changes in the policy of the Opposition—in general or in this or that question. He usually met with friendly resistance and was soon reconciled. But under his exaggerated and dangerous innovations one could often find some valuable observation or new impression. That is why Radek’s participation was always beneficial to the collective work. And none of us thought of making a list of Radek’s numerous zigzags—to the right as well as to the left; though more often to the right than to the left. The trouble is, however, that since 1928 the leading group of the Opposition has been dispersed. All of us were separated from one another by enormous distances and left on our own. Clearly under such circumstances Radek’s extreme impulsiveness would serve him badly.

Since February 1928 Comrade Radek has made a very abrupt turn on the question of Thermidor and “two parties.” He did not foresee the possibility of resistance to the Right on the part of the centrists, just as those who first heard about Thermidor from us and immediately began to vow it was already “accomplished” did not. Since Radek, however, does not merely repeat general, empty phrases, but tries to observe facts and understand them, he went to the opposite extreme. The Stalinists began to seem to him, after February 1928, to be Marxist, and Thermidor almost a myth. Had we all been in Moscow, Radek would probably have calmed down after his first exaggerations—until he had a new inspiration. But Radek was in Siberia. He sent letters and theses to a number of comrades. Everyone jumped on him. The correspondence was intercepted by the GPU and turned over to the Central Committee. Yaroslavsky reported Radek’s views at meetings, muddling the whole situation for lack of understanding and by telling malicious lies. Thus Radek became a captive of his own impulsive character. He began to alter the facts in his effort to bolster his position. He was forced more and more to colour Stalin’s zigzag in order to justify his own.

This, as stated before, has been going on for about a year and a half. In July of last year Radek wrote his draft of an appeal to the Sixth Congress. At that time the exiles were still permitted to correspond somewhat freely; the Stalinists hoped that the split would manifest itself more quickly that way. Through an exchange of telegrams between the colonies of the Oppositionists a kind of vote took place on the two texts of the appeal to the Sixth Congress. Radek gathered half a dozen votes. My draft was signed by several hundred. In the end Radek also attached his name to the collective declaration.

On July 17, 1928, I subjected the draft of Radek’s theses to an analysis in a letter I sent to the exiles and to Moscow. I consider it timely to publish this analysis now. The reader will become convinced through that, I hope, that in 1929 Radek has added little to his mistakes of 1928. At any rate, these individual or group zigzags, even when made with the best of intentions, cannot turn the Opposition from its path.

return return return return return

Last updated on: 28 May 2021