Written: 12 June 1929.
Source: The Militant, Vol. II No. 15, 1 October 1929, p. 4.
Translated: The Militant. An alternative translation was published in Fourth International, Vol. 7 No. 8, August 1946, pp. 249–251, where the date was given as ␄12 July”.
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I am very grateful to you for your detailed letter of June 3, 1929: it contains a lot of very important news for me which I hope to utilize in the future. Here, I wish to confine myself to examining the question of our attitude towards the German Right Opposition.
1. You admit that Brandler and Thalheimer did not understand the revolutionary situation in Garmany in 1923, in China in 1925–1927, in England in 1926, and finally the Thermidorian character of the struggle against “Trotskyism” from 1923 to 1927. You admit all this. But thereby you recognize that Brandler-Thalheimer are not revolutionaries, for revolutionaries are determined and characterized by their attitude towards the fundamental problems of the world revolution. What can we Bolsheviks have in common, in politics, with non-revolutionaries, especially with individuals who, for the last 6–7 years, have been fighting our revolutionary decisions and slogans in the most trying moments?
2. Still you resent the fact that Brandler and Thalheimer are called Menshevik-liquidators. Certainly, if this is taken literally, it is false. But the tendency that put them in opposition to us is without a doubt a tendency of liquidators and Mensheviks. The Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung criticizes me exactly like Thalheimer does. Like him, it sympathizes with Stalin against me, with Rykov and Bucharin against Stalin. But the Arbeiter-Zeitung does it openly, while Brandler and Thalheimer play a most pitiful game of hide and seek. In such a case, I prefer the Arbeiter-Zeitung, that is, the enemy who shows himself openly.
3. Your letter contains deadly arguments against the Rights. In spite of that, you thought it necessary to add that “the situation in the German Communist Party would be better if they applied the socalled Right policy instead of the one practised at present.”
Well, we have already seen to what a pass the German Party was brought under the leadership of Brandler. It brought the huge catastrophe at the end of 1923. This catastrophe forms the basis of all the subsequent jumps of German Communism towards the Right and towards the Left. It constitutes the political premise for the period of stabilization of European capitalism that followed. How then can we fail to see that as a political person Brandler finds himself on the other side of the barricades?
4. You know that I did not come to this annihilating conclusion at one stroke. I had rather hoped that Brandler would learn. In the Fall of 1923, he understood his lack of capacity. He himself told me repeatedly that he was unable to find himself again in a revolutionary situation. Yet, after he had missed the situation, he became exceedingly haughty. He began to accuse me of “pessimism”. He looked upon 1924 with lots of “optimism”. Then I understood that this man did not know how to distinguish the face of the revolution from its rear.
Had it been only a matter of an individual peculiarity the misfortune would have been only half as great. But now it has been raised to a system on which a faction is being built. What can we have in common with a faction of this kind?
5. By that I do not assume to any degree the defense of the policy of Maslov and others. In 1923, the verbose radicalism of Maslov was imbued with the same passivity as was Brandler’s. Without understanding the ABC of the question, Maslov tried to ridicule any demand for the fixing of the date of the insurrection. At the Fifth Congress, he still regarded the revolution as progressing. In other words, in the essential questions he shared the errors of Brandler, serving them up with an ultra-Leftist sauce. But Maslov at least made an effort to learn until he slid down into the morass of the capitulators. Others of the old ultra-Lefts learned certain things. I by no means assume the responsibility for the line of Volkswille as a whole. Even now there are not a few remnants of the past, that is, of combinations of opportunist and ultra-Left tendencies. Nevertheless, these comrades have learned a great deal and a great number Of them have proved that they are capable of learning still more. Brandler and Thalheimer, on the contrary, have taken a gigantic step backwards by raising, their revolutionary blindness to a platform.
6. You see one of their merits in their struggle for democracy in the Party. I do not see this merit. Brandler and Thalheimer never raised their voices against the annihilation of the Left Opposition. They not only tolerated the Stalinist regime but they supported it. They swallowed the Thermidorian bait of “Trotskyism”. When did they feel called upon to take up the struggle for Party democracy? Only when the apparatus began to crush them, when they became convinced that they would never get to power simply by serving the Stalinists. Can one really find it meritorious that the opportunists begin to cry out when the Centrists, dreading the criticism of the Left, demolish them? No one likes to be clubbed. There isn’t any merit in that.
The Centrist methods of struggle against the Right are disgusting, and in the long run help the Right. But that does not by any means signify that a democratic regime in the Communist Party must assure citizenship to the opportunist tendency of Brandler.
Party democracy cannot be regarded as a thing in itself. We speak of democracy on a definite revolutionary basis which excludes Brandlerism.
7. You see the second merit of the Brandlerists in their struggle for immediate demands, in their striving to find contact with the masses, etc. But do we need such contact for itself, and not for revolutionary (and, what amounts to the same thing, international) aims? If we take as a point of departure the mere contact with the masses, we must turn our eyes toward the Second International and Amsterdam. The German social democracy is much more imposing on this point that Brandler-Thalheimer.
Of course it can be said that this is an exaggeration: Brandler and Thalheimer are not the social democracy. Of course, they are not yet the social democracy, and naturally not the social democracy of today. But we must know how to look at facts in their development. The German social democracy did not begin with Herman Mueller. on the other hand, so far Brandler only desires to have the masses with him, but he has not got them. You yourself speak indignantly of the Brandlerists turning their backs to the international proletariat. They don’t give a fig for the Russian revolution, or the Chinese revolution, or the rest of humanity.
They want to carry out their policies in Germany like Stalin wants to build socialism in Russia. Live and let live. But we know where that led to: to the 4th of August 1914. Allow me to remind you once more that the young factions, particularly the opportunist Opposition factions, are more “congenial” than the old social-chauvinist Parties in the same way as a young pig is more congenial than an old hog.
8. However, those who imagine that Brandler can really lead the masses on to “the soil of reality” (that is, of national reformism), are seriously mistaken. No, on that soil Brandler has an invincible competitor. So long as the masses of the workers choose between Brandler and Wels, they will prefer the latter, and in their fashion they will be right: It is useless to recommence from the beginning what has already been done once.
9. It seems that you present as a merit of Brandler and Thalheimer their criticism of Thaelmann’s First of May policy. At the same time you express the certitude that I cannot approve of this policy. I do not know if you have read my letter to the Sixth Congress entitled What Now? This letter contains a special chapter devoted to the perspectives of the Leftward march of the German working class, and also a direct and categorical warning against Thaelmann’s hare-brained over-estimation of the movement towards the Left and against the danger of ultra-Leftist adventures that flow from it. I will speak of all this in greater detail in a pamphlet that I hope to publish next month. But, while criticizing the spirit of bureaucratic adventurism, I will draw a line of demarcation all the more clearly between my criticism and Brandler’s. Opportunists always have a triumphant air when they criticize the spirit of revolutionary adventurism. But it is precisely they who prepare the ground for it: Brandler prepared the ground for Maslov like Maslov prepared the ground for Thaelmann, who combines all the errors of Brandler and Maslov and adds to them his own faults that result from bureaucratic stupidity and blustering ignorance.
10. You point to various groups of the Left Opposition and call them “sectarian”. We must come to an understanding of the meaning of this term. There are among us elements who content themselves with criticizing the mistakes of the official party, without setting themselves any other tasks in a broader sense, without taking upon themselves practical revolutionary obligations, and make a distinction of the revolutionary Opposition, something like the Order of the Legion d’Honneur. There are also sectarian tendencies expressed in splitting every hair in four. This must be combated. And I am personally ready to fight against this until the last, if needs be against old friendships, personal relations, etc., etc.
However we must not have any illusions. The revolutionary Marxists are now again reduced (not for the first time and probably not for the last) to being an international propaganda society. Such a position, by its very essence, contains certain elements of sectarianism that can be overcome only by degrees. It seems that the fact that we are very few frightens you. Of course, it is unpleasant. Naturally, it would be better to have behind us organizations numbering millions. But how are we, the vanguard of the vanguard, to have such organizations the day after the world revolution has suffered catastrophic defeats brought on by the Menshevik leadership hiding under the false mask of Bolshevism? How? Yes, how?
We are passing through a period of tremendous reaction following upon the revolutionary years (1917–1923). We revolutionary Marxists find ourselves thrown back, at a new and higher stage of history, into the position of a small minority, persecuted almost like at the beginning of the imperialist war. As is shown by all history, beginning with the example of the First International, similar relapses are inevitable. Our advantage over our predecessors consists in the fact that the environment is now much more mature and that we ourselves are much more “mature”, for we rest upon the shoulders of Marx, Lenin and many others. We will be able to utilize this advantage that we possess only if we know how to manifest the greatest ideological intransigence, fiercer yet than that of Lenin at the beginning of the imperialist war. There will still me characterless impressionists, like Radek, to abandon us. They will still talk of our “sectarianism”. We must not be afraid of words. Twice already have we gone through all this. Such was the case during the reaction of 1907–1912 in Russia. It was the same during the war in Europe. The present reaction is deeper than the preceding ones. There will yet be isolated capitulations, desertions and even direct betrayal. That is in the nature of the present period. So much the surer will be those selected. To be at present a “sectarian” of revolutionary Marxism in the eyes of philistines, of snivellers, of shallow minds, is the greatest honor for a real revolutionary. I repeat: we are today again nothing but an international propaganda society. I do not see in this any reason for pessimism, despite the fact that we have behind us the huge historic mountain of the October revolution, or, to speak more exactly, precisely because of that. I have no doubt that the new chapter of the proletarian revolution will begin its genealogy with our “sectarian” group.
11. In conclusion, a few words on the Brandler faction as a whole. You agree with me that Brandler and Thalheimer themselves are incorrigible. I am ready to admit with you that in any case their faction is better than its leaders. Many workers go to this faction, despairing of the policy of the official Party and unable at the same time to forget the luckless leadership of the ultra-Leftists after 1923. All that is true. A part of these workers, like a part of the ultra-Left workers, will pass over to the social democracy. Another part will come to us, if we do not spare the Right. Our task consists of explaining that the faction of Brandler is only a new door leading to the social democracy.
12. Do we need a platform of immediate demands? Yes. Do we need of a correct tactic in the trade unions? Certainly. But we cannot speak of these questions except with those who have clearly and firmly decided for themselves why all this is needed. Just as I will not discuss the various tendencies in materialism with a man who makes the sign of the cross whenever he passes by a church, so I will not work out slogans and a tactic with Brandler who, in principle, calls the rear of the revolution its face (and vice versa). We must begin by intrenching ourselves in positions of principle, by occupying a correct position of departure, and afterwards expand our tactical lines. We are now in a period of the clarification of principles for ourselves and of pitiless delimitation from the opportunists and confusionists. It is only in this direction that the way to the great road of the revolution will be found.
Constantinople, June 12, 1929
Strong and intransigent greetings,
Last updated on: 16.8.2012