Leon Trotsky

A Letter to Souvarine

Source: A Documentary History of the Fourth International, Fourth International, Vol.7 No.5, May 1946, pages 156-158.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Ted Crawford and David Walters
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2008. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons License.

Dear Comrade Souvarine,
April 25, 1929
I received your letter of April 16. It surprised me a little. You write that you expected a different conduct from me with regard to oppositional groups abroad. In your opinion I ought not have expressed my views at once, but should have observed, studied and sought to gather together groups and individuals capable of thinking and acting as Marxists. You reproach me for having left no time for “study, reflection and discussion.” And you warn that I shall have cause to regret my hastiness.

I believe that your criticism, which is quite friendly in tone, discloses the entire erroneousness of your present orientation. You cannot be unaware that up to now I have not expressed myself on a single one of the controversial internal questions which divide the French, German, Austrian and other oppositional groupings. I have been too much removed in recent years from the internal life of European parties and I actually did need time to gain more detailed information concerning both the general political situation as well as the oppositional groupings. If I did express myself concerning the latter, it was only in connection with those three questions which are fundamental for our period, namely: the domestic policy in the USSR; the guiding line in the Chinese revolution and the course of the Anglo-Russian Committee. Isn’t it rather strange that precisely upon these questions you propose that I do not hurry, bide my time, inform myself and reflect? Meanwhile, you do not at all renounce your right to express yourself publicly on these three questions in a spirit directly contrary to those decisions which constitute the very basis of the Leninist Left Opposition.

In the press I announced my complete readiness to correct or change my appraisal of the Brandler group or your group, if any new facts or documents were called to my attention. Subsequently the Brandler group sent me, very kindly, files of their publications. In the March 16 issue of Arbeiterpolitik I read Thalheimer’s report on the Russian discussion. Truly I needed no time for “study” or “reflection” in order to state that the Brandler-Thalheimer group stands on the other side of the barricades. Let us recall the facts.

1) In 1923 this group was unable either to understand or to utilize an exceptional revolutionary situation.

2) In 1924 Brandler tried to see a revolutionary situation lying directly ahead and not behind.

3) In 1925 he decided that there had been no revolutionary situation at all, but that there was an “overestimation” on the part of Trotsky.

4) In 1925-26 he considered that the course toward the kulak, the then course of Stalin-Bukharin, was correct.

5) In 1923-25 Thalheimer as a member of the programmatic commission supported Bukharin against me on the question of the character of the program (a bare schema of national capitalism instead of a theoretical generalization of world economy and world policy).

6) Brandler and Thalheimer have nowhere, to my knowledge, raised their voices against the theory of socialism in one country.

7) Brandler and Thalheimer tried to worm their way into the party leadership by assuming a protective Stalinist coloration (like Foster in America).

8) On the question of the Chinese revolution Brandler and Thalheimer dragged at the tail of the official leadership.

9) The same on the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee.

Brandler and the Right Wing

I have thus before me an experience of six years. You cannot be unaware that I did not rush to condemn Brandler. After the fearful collapse of the German revolution in 1923 I took up conditionally the defense of Brandler, arguing that it was unworthy to make him a scapegoat when the Zinoviev-Stalin leadership of the Comintern as a whole was responsible for the German catastrophe. I came to a negative political appraisal of Brandler only when I became convinced that he lacked the desire or the ability to learn even from the greatest events. His retrospective appraisal of the 1923 German situation is completely analagous to the criticism which the Mensheviks made of the 1905 revolution in the years of reaction. I had ample time to “reflect” on all this.

Thalheimer’s entire report on the Russian discussion is summed up in a single phrase: “Trotsky’s program calls for a stronger financial squeeze of the peasantry.” Throughout his report Thalheimer plays variations on this theme. Can there be a more shameful position for a Marxist? For me the very question begins by a denial of the peasantry as a whole. Under discussion is the class struggle within the peasantry. The Opposition put forward the demand that 40-50 percent of the peasantry be freed of levies in general. Beginning with 1923 the Opposition warned that the lag in industry would signify a spreading price gap and consequently the most profound and ruinous exploitation of the lowest peasant ranks by the kulaks, the middle-men and the traders.

The middle peasantry is a social protoplasm. It develops invariably and uninterruptedly in two directions: toward capitalism—through the kulaks, and toward socialism—through the semi.proletarians and the agricultural laborers. Irrevocably lost are those who ignore this fundamental process, those who talk about the peasantry in general, those who do not see that there are two hostile faces to the “peasantry.” The problem of Thermidor and Bonapartism is at bottom the problem of the kulak. Those who shy away from this problem, those who minimize its importance and distract attention to questions of party regime, to bureaucratism, to unfair polemical methods and other superficial manifestations and expressions of the pressure of kulak elements upon the dictatorship of the proletariat resemble a physician who chases after symptoms and pimples while ignoring functional and organic disturbances.

At the same time Thalheimer repeats like a trained parrot that our demand for a secret ballot in the party is “Menshevism.” He cannot be ignorant of the fact that worker members in the CPSU are afraid to speak out and vote as they think. They are afraid of the apparatus which transmits the pressure of the kulak, the functionary, the spetz, the petty bourgeois and the foreign bourgeoisie. Of course, the kulak, too, wants a secret ballot in the Soviets, for he is also hindered by the apparatus which is in one way or another under the pressure of the workers from the other side. Herein precisely are the elements of dual power, covered up by the centrist bureaucracy which maneuvers between the classes and which, precisely for this reason, undermines all the more the position of the proletariat. The Mensheviks want the secret ballot for the kulak and the petty bourgeois in the Soviets-against the workers, against the Communists. I want the secret ballot for the worker Bolshevik in the party against the bureaucrats, against the Thermidorian. But since Thalheimer belongs among those who do not see classes, he identifies the demand of the Leninist Opposition with the demand of the Mensheviks. With such nonsense he seeks to mask his purely bourgeois position on the peasant question.

Naturally, an attempt will be made to use the secret ballot not only by the Bolshevik-Leninists but also by their opponents who wormed their way into the party. In other words, the class struggle within the Communist Party which is at present suppressed under the lid of the Bonapartist apparatus will break out into the open. This is just what we need. The party will see itself as it actually is. This will be a signal for the genuine self-cleansing of the party—in contrast to the fraudulent bureaucratic purges which the apparatus is once again contemplating in the interests of self-preservation.

Only after cleansing the party in the way indicated above will it be possible to introduce the secret ballot into the proletarian trade unions. Only in this way will it be possible to determine the actual strength of Menshevik, SociaI-Revolutionary and Black-Hundred influences in the trade unions, which for many years have been reduced to anonymity under the bureaucracy. It is impossible to maintain a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat without seriously probing into the class as a whole. Today the sicknesses have been driven so deep internally that they can be brought into the open only by emergency measures. One of them—of course, it is not the only one —is the demand for the secret ballot in the party, and later in the trade unions.

So far as the Soviets are concerned, we will decide this question only after we have passed through the experience with the party and proletarian trade union organizations. On all the basic questions of the world revolution and the class struggle, Brandler and Thalheimer have associated themselves with Stalin-Bukharin who have received the support of the Social Democracy precisely on these questions (China, the English trade unions, the peasantry), But the demand for the secret ballot for the proletarian vanguard and against the apparatus, which is introducing Menshevism by methods of terror, is proclaimed by Thalheimer to be—Menshevism. Is a more wretched ideological bankruptcy conceivable?

I have no doubts that in Brandler’s group and on its periphery there are many workers who have been repelled from the party by the disreputable administration of Thaelmann and Co., and who have stumbled into the wrong doorway. The Leninist Opposition must aid these workers to orient themselves in the situation. But this can be achieved only by methods of irreconcilable and merciless struggle against the political course of Brandler-Thalheimer and all groupings which solidarize with them or actually support them.

The Stalinist course in the Comintern has yet to speak its final words. We are only just entering the phase of crises, splits, groupings and paroxysms. Ahead lies work of many years’ duration. Not all will measure up to it. You refer to the vacillations of Radek, Smilga, Preobrazhensky. I am sufficiently acquainted with this. This is not the first day, nor the first month, nor even the first year that they have vacillated. Noteworthy in the extreme is the fact that these comrades either vacillated or took a wrong position on the basic questions of the world revolution. Radek defended a false line on the questions of China and the Anglo-Russian Committee, and until 1927 he doubted that a different economic policy was generally possible from the one pursued by Stalin-Bukharin. Preobrazhensky held a flagrantly false position on the Chinese question and on the question of the Comintern program (a conciliationism attitude toward nationalistic socialism). Smilga together with Radek opposed the withdrawal of the Communist Party from the Kuomintang and was against the slogan of the dictatorship of the Chinese proletariat in the period of the revolution and later, in the period of the counter-revolution, was against the slogan of the Constituent Assembly. The current party-organizational vacillations of the above-named comrades derive from a lack of clarity and from the ambiguity of their general theoretical and political position. It was ever thus, and always will be.

Lenin taught us not to be afraid even when very influential and honored comrades withdrew, split or deserted. In the last analysis what decides is the correct political line. To stay on the correct line in the period of political ebb, in face of the offensive of the bourgeoisie, the Social Democracy and the Right-Center bloc in the Comintern (all these are phenomena of one and the same order)—this is today the chief duty of a proletarian revolutionist. A correct evaluation of the epoch and its driving forces, a correct forecast of the future will compel all the genuinely revolutionary elements of the working class to regroup themselves and to rally round the Bolshevik banner. That is how I view the situation.

I would be very glad if you found it possible to solidarize yourself with the foregoing views, since that would enable us to work in the same ranks. And I take clearly into account how beneficial to the cause such a collaboration would be.
With comradely greetings,

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Last updated on: 9.2.2009