A Documentary History of the Fourth International

Leon Trotsky

Once Again
on Brandler-Thalheimer

(July 1929)

Written: July 12, 1929.
Source: Fourth International [New York], Vol. 7 No. 8 (Whole No. 69), August 1946, pp.249–251.
Translated: Fourth International. An alternative translation was published in The Militant, Vol II No. 15, 1 October 1929, where the date was given as “12 June”.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

July 12, 1929

Esteemed Comrade,

I am very thankful to you for your detailed letter of June 3. It contains much valuable information which I hope to use in the future. Here I wish to confine myself to the question of our attitude toward the German Right Opposition. 1) You admit that Brandler-Thaiheimer failed to understand the revolutionary situation in Germany in 1923, the revolutionary situation in China in 1923–27, the revolutionary situation in England in 1926, and finally the Thermidorian character of the struggle against “Trotskyism” in 1923–27. All this is admilled by you. But thereby you admit that Brandler-Thalheimer are not revolutionists, because revolutionists are determined and recognizable by their attitude toward the basic issues of the world revolution. What can we Bolsheviks have in common with non-revolutionists, or what is still worse, with people who have fought against our revolutionary decisions and slogans during the most critical moments in the last six-seven years?

2) You are, however, disturbed over Brandler and Thalheimer’s being called liquidators and Mensheviks. If one takes this literally, then it is of course wrong. But the tendency whereby they are counterposed to us is undoubtedly the liquidationist and Menshevik tendency. ’The Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung criticizes me in exactly the same way as Thalheimer. Together with Thalheimer the Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung sympathizes with Stalin against me, and with Rykov and Bukharin against Stalin. But the Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung does it openly, while Brandler-Thalheimer play the wretched game of hide and seek. In such cases I prefer the Arbeiter Zeitung, i.e., an avowed enemy.

3) Your letter contains annihilating arguments against the Rights. Nevertheless you find it necessary to add that the situation “in the German Communist Party would improve if it were carrying out the so-called Rightist policy instead of the present policy?’

But after all, we have already seen the Brandlerite policy as the leading party policy. It led to the greatest catastrophe toward the end of 1923. This catastrophe is at the bottom of all the subsequent violent shifts of German Communism to the right and to the left. This catastrophe was the premise for the ensuing phase of stabilization of European capitalism. How then can one overlook the fact that Brandler as a politician stands on the other side of the barricades?

4) You know that I did not arrive suddenly at this annihilating conclusion. I wanted to hope that Brandler could learn. In the autumn of 1923 he sensed his own inadequacy. He told me several times that he lacked the strength to orient himself in a revolutionary situation. However, after he let slip the revolutionary situation, he became filled with haughtiness. He began to accuse me of “pessimism.” He looked forward to 1924 with “greater optimism.” I then understood that this man was incapable of distinguishing between the face of the revolution and its back.

If this were a personal idiosyncrasy, it wouldn’t be so bad. But after all this has now been erected into a system and upon this system a faction is being built. What can we have in common with this faction?

5) I do not thereby undertake any defense whatever of the policy of Maslow and others. In 1923 Maslow’s verbal radicalism stemmed from the same passivity as in Brandler’s case. Without understanding the ABC of the question, Maslow tried to laugh off my demand that a date be set for the uprising. At the Fifth World Congress he was still of the opinion that the revolution was on the upswing. In other words, on the most fundamental questions he shared the mistakes of Brandler, serving them up with an ultra-leftist sauce. But Maslow tried to learn until he tumbled into the swamp of capitulationism. Other former ultra-lefts did learn a few things. I do not at all assume responsibility for the line of Volkswille as a whole. Even today there are not a few eructations of the past, i.e., combinations of opportunist tendencies with ultra-leftism. But nevertheless these comrades have learned a great deal, and many of them have shown that they are capable of learning more. Brandler-Thalheimer have, on the contrary, taken a gigantic step backward, erecting their revolutionary blindness into a platform.

6) You see merit in their struggle for party democracy. I do not see this merit. Brandler-Thalheimer never raised their voices against the crushing of the Left Opposition. They not only tolerated the Stalinist regime but supported it. They joined in the chorus of the Thermidorian persecution of “Trotskyism.” When did they feel themselves called upon to struggle for party democracy? When the apparatus began to crush them and when they became convinced that they could not come to power by exclusively serving the Stalinists. Is it really possible to see merit in opportunists because they begin shouting when the Centrists, afraid of criticism from the left, begin crushing them? No one likes to be beaten. There is no merit in it.

The centrist methods of struggle against the Rights are revolting and in the last analysis help the Rights. But this does not at all mean that the democratic regime of the Communist Party is obliged to assure the right of citizenship to the opportunist tendency of Brandler.

It is impermissible to approach party democracy as a thing in itself. We speak of party democracy on specific revolutionary foundations which exclude Brandlerism.

7) The second merit of the Brandlerites you see in their struggle for transitional demands and their search for ties with the masses, etc. But after all do we need ties with the masses for the sake of these ties alone and not for the sake of revolutionary (and therewith international) goals? If we were to proceed from the bare ties with the masses, then we ought to turn our eyes toward the Second International and Amsterdam. In this respect the German Social Democracy is far more imposing than Brandler-Thalheimer.

It is of course possible to object that this is an exaggeration: Brandler-Thalheimer are, you know, not the Social Democracy. Of course, they are not yet the Social Democracy, and, of course, they are not the existing Social Democracy. But one must know how to approach events in their development. The German Social Democracy did not begin with Herman Müller, either. And, on the other hand, Brandler still only wants to get the masses, but hasn’t got them yet. You yourself remark with indignation that the Brandlerites are turning their backs upon the international proletariat. They are not concerned with the Russian revolution, nor with the Chinese revolution, nor with the rest of mankind. They want to carry out their policy in Germany, just like Stalin wants to build socialism in Russia. Live and let live. But after all we know to what this has led in the past: to August 4, 1914. Permit me to recall once again that young opportunist factions, especially oppositional factions, are no “nicer” in relation to the old social chauvinist parties than a young pig is “nicer” than an old swine.

National Reformism

8) But those are seriously mistaken who imagine that Brandler is actually capable of leading the masses “on the soil of reality” (i.e., of national reformism). No, on this soil Brandler has an unconquerable competitor. To the extent that a mass worker has to choose between Brandler and Wels, he will take Wels, and in his own way he will be correct: there is no need to begin from the beginning something that has already been accomplished.

9) You seem to give credit to Brandler-Thalheimer for their criticism of Thaelmann’s May 1 policy. In passing you express it assurance that I could not possibly approve this policy. I don’t know whether you have read my letter to the Sixth World Congress, What Next? This letter contains a special chapter devoted to the perspectives of the radicalization of the German working class and in it is a direct and categorical warning against the silly Thälmannist over-estimation of the degree of this radicalization and against the dangers of ultra-leftist adventures latent in this. I will deal in greater detail with all this in a pamphlet which I hope to issue next month. But in criticizing bureaucratic adventurism I will draw all the more sharply a line of demarcation between my criticism and that of Brandler. Opportunists always appear very triumphant in criticizing revolutionary adventurism. But they also pave the way for it: Brandler paved the way for Maslow, just as Maslow paved the way for Thälmann who combines all the mistakes of Brandler and Maslow and adds to them his own blunders which stem from bureaucratic stupidity and boastful ignorance.

10) You point to individual groups of the Left Opposition and call them “sectarian.” We ought to come to an agreement on the content of this term. Among us there are elements who remain satisfied with a home-spun criticism of the mistakes of the official party, without setting themselves any broader tasks, without assuming any practical revolutionary obligations, converting the revolutionary opposition into a title, something akin to a Legion of Honor. There are in addition sectarian tendencies which express themselves in splitting every hair into four parts. It is necessary to struggle against this. And I am personally ready to wage a struggle against it, and not to be deterred, if need be, by old friendships, personal ties, and so forth and so on.

However, there should be no illusions. Revolutionary Marxists have been once again-not for the first time and probably not for the last time-driven into a position of an international propaganda society. By the very nature of things such a situation involves certain elements of sectarianism, which can be overcome only gradually. You seem to be frightened by the smallness of your numbers. This is, of course, unpleasant. It is, of course, best to have organizations numbering millions. But where are we, the vanguard of the vanguard, to obtain organizations of millions on the day after the world revolution has suffered catastrophic defeats in the most important countries, defeats produced by a Menshevik leadership which hides behind a false mask of Bolshevism? Where?

We are passing through a period of colossal reaction, following the revolutionary years (1917–23). On a new and higher historical stage, we, revolutionary Marxists, find ourselves thrown back into a position of a small and persecuted minority, almost as was the case at the beginning of the imperialist war. As all of history demonstrates, beginning, say, with the First International, such regressions are unavoidable. Our advantage over our predecessors lies in this, that the situation today is more mature and that we ourselves are more “mature” for we stand on the shoulders of Marx, Lenin and many others. We shall capitalize on our advantage only if we are able to evince the greatest ideological irreconcilability, fiercer even than Lenin’s irreconcilability at the outbreak of the war [of 1914–18]. Characterless impressionists like Radek will depart from us. They will invariably speak about our “sectarianism.” We must not fear words. We have already passed twice through similar experiences. This happened during the 1907-12 reaction in Russia. This happened in all of Europe during the war years. There will still be individual capitulations, desertions and outright betrayals. This is inherent in the nature of our period. All the more reliable will be the selection of our ranks. The greatest honor for a genuine revolutionist today is to remain a “sectarian” of revolutionary Marxism in the eyes of Philistines, whimperers and superficial thinkers. Let me repeat: today we are once again only an international propaganda society. I do not see in this the slightest reason for pessimism, despite the fact that behind us is the great historical mountain of the October Revolution. Or more accurately, precisely because this great historical mountain lies behind us. I have no doubts that the development of the new chapter of the proletarian revolution will trace its genealogy back to our “sectarian” group.

11) In conclusion, a few words about Brandler’s faction as a whole. You agree with me that Brandler-Thalheimer are incorrigible. I am ready to agree with you that the faction still remains superior to its leaders. Many workers fell into this faction, despairing of the policy of the official party, and at the same time, being unable to forget the ill-starred leadership of the ultra-lefts following 1923. All this is true. A section of these workers, like a section of the ultra-left workers, will go over to the Social Democracy. Another section will come to us, if we do not show any indulgence to the Right. Our task consists in explaining that the Brandlerite faction is only a new gateway to the Social Democracy.

12) Do we need a platform of transitional demands? We do. Do we need a correct tactic in the trade unions? Unquestionably. But it is possible to discuss these questions only with those who have clearly and firmly decided for what ends we need all this. As I will not discuss various tendencies in materialism with a man who crosses himself on passing a church, just so I will not start elaborating slogans and tactics with Brandler who, out of principle, labels the back of the revolution as its face (and vice versa). We must first intrench ourselves on principled positions, take a correct starting point and then proceed to unfold along tactical lines. We are now in the period of principled self-clarification and merciless demarcation from opportunists and muddlers. This is the only avenue to the highway of revolution.

With warm and irreconcilable greetings,

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Last updated on: 16.8.2012