Leon Trotsky

A Letter on the Capitulators

Letter to a Russian Comrade

Written: May 22, 1929
First Published: In English, The Militant, New York, Vol. 2 No. 11, July 1, 1929
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. This, from the original copy of The Miltant, has sections 1 through 5. Pathfinder Press’s Writings of Leon Trotsky 1929 added sections 6 and 7 left out of the original translation [from Biulleten Oppozitsii, the journal of the Russian Left Opposition], done for The Militant. We have not added them here. Additionally, the title for this letter stands by the original from The Militant. The Pathfinder Press version titles it “Capitulators of the Third Wave”.
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Dear Friend:

1. The latest press dispatches tell of Preobrazhensky’s arrival in Moscow for negotiations with the Central Committee. There is not the slightest doubt that these capitulators and compromisers of the third wave will be treated as fools. What kind of participa-tion in the party different from that of Zinoviev are they dream-ing of? Marked as a capitulator, Zinoviev sits on his hands, afraid to move, not knowing what to expect. We, meanwhile, are actively though slowly preparing for the future, forming cadres of young Bolsheviks. What position between us and the Zinovievists do the new capitulators expect to occupy? It is doubtful they themselves have any clear idea. They must hope that Yaro-slavsky will brainwash them, after which they will have to crawl out of the swamp onto a clean spot, by no means increasing their authority.

They assert that the disagreements have almost disappeared. How do they explain the rabid character of the repressions? Exile and hard-labor prisons for Bolsheviks in the absence of very deep and irreconcilable disagreements could only be the result of completely unprincipled bureaucratic banditry. According to Radek and others, that is exactly the policy of the Stalinists. But in that case, how do they dare murmur of a bloc with these political bandits who, without principled grounds, are holding our comrades in hard-labor prisons, condemning them to banishment and sometimes to death?

We never characterized the Stalinists as mercilessly and annihilatingly as Radek does, beyond himself, simply because he has gone astray in a forest of three trees, crawls out, falls down, flounders, tries to get up, and falls down again. We have thought, and still do, that the Stalinists are not mindless political bandits, for they have profound and principled reasons for their merciless persecution of us. It is a poor politician who takes a political line piecemeal, not asking which elements are carrying out that line and for what reasons. Caught in an economic blind alley, the Stalinist cadres, gritting their teeth, are carrying out a left zigzag which by force of circumstances and of the struggle itself has pushed them much further to the left than they wish. Ninety percent of those cadres are dreaming of returning at the first opportunity to a more “healthy,” “normal,” “national” course, and hate us to the death exactly because by our uncompromising attitude we prevent their doing this. A capitulation of the Opposition would mean: (a) condemning ourselves to a Zinoviev-ist vegetable existence-nature knows no more shameful state, and (b) an immediate swerving of the Stalinists to the right.

2. The problems of the Comintern do not in the least interest the advocates of capitulation “in one country.” The national-socialist program of the Comintern worries them very little. They reconcile themselves with light hearts to the policy of adventur-ism which, in Berlin as in Canton, is an attempt to restore the revolutionary reputation of centrism.’13 In the meantime, the continual persecution of the Opposition is hopelessly shattering the cadres of the Comintern. Everything is being trampled on and defiled by the boot of bureaucratism. How shall we remedy this affliction? It is quite simple: capitulate before that same boot.

3. A revolution is a mighty devourer of people. Of the older generation there is an enormous percentage of desolate souls among the ruling majority-and no small percentage among the Oppositionists. The reaction is in full swing in the party and the Comintern, reflecting the general shift of class forces on a world scale. In such circumstances, withdrawals and capitulations inevitably become the norm. Bolshevism, from 1907 to 1910 and again from 1914 to 1917, experienced a whole series of such departures, splits, group and individual capitulations. Only by way of such self-cleansing and self-clarification was it able to grow and strengthen itself for the October victory. We are not in the least frightened by the withdrawal of comrades, even those with the most “respected” names. By the example of their waverings we will teach steadfastness to the youth.

4. What a pitiful and cowardly falsity in the endorsements by these new capitulators of Yaroslavsky’s declarations regarding the impermissibility of employing the bourgeois press. Was it necessary to stoop to such triviality? Through Tass press agency the Stalinists are circulating in the bourgeois press of the whole world a monstrous lie and slander against us, gradually preparing a justification for bloody repressive measures. And we must not dare to tell the truth about ourselves in that very press?!! The Stalinists bargain with bourgeois police and reactionary diplomats to prevent our admission into any country. They compel the Norwegian Communists along with the reactionaries to destroy the right of asylum. They compel the official Communist press to accompany this reactionary police act with wild persecution and slander, which creeps into the pages of the whole bourgeois press. And we must modestly remain silent, in keeping with a 1905 resolution which was adapted to the conditions of a revolutionary party, not to the reactionary work of a Thermidorean bureaucracy attacking us in sacred unity with the capitalist police of all Europe!

5. It is clear that before us is the perspective of prolonged struggle and educational work. It will be necessary to renew our cadres. Let those who do not measure up to the work withdraw. After drifting and hesitating, some will come back to us. In the interval, we shall become stronger. We must educate a new generation in the spirit of steadfast Bolshevik implacability. Along with work among the masses on the basis of our platform, we must deepen educational activity among the youth, without being afraid to exert ourselves for even a single individual. We need to deepen propaganda work on an international scale. Every serious Bolshevik must have around him some young people whom he will initiate, day by day, into the sphere of the fundamental problems of Marxism and of international revolution.

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Last updated on: 30 May 2021