Written: September 7, 1929.
Published: Published in Fourth International in four parts under the heading From the Arsenal of Marxism: Documentary History of the Fourth International: Vol.VII No.10 (Whole No.71), October 1946, pp.312-316; Vol.VII No.12 (Whole No.73) December 1946 pp.362-365; Vol.VIII No.2 (Whole No.75), February 1947,pp.61-63; and Vol.VIII No.3 (Whole No.76), March 1947, pp.90-93. The document was originally serialized in the following issues of The Militant: Volume II No. 17 December 21, 1929, Volume II No. 18 December 28, 1929 and Volume III No. 18 January 4, 1929
Translated: John G. Wright for Fourth International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Andrew Pollack and Sally Ryan
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002 and 2005. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
Note by editor, Fourth International
The year 1929, which saw the crystallization of the Trotskyist movement on a world scale and on firm programmatic foundations, was likewise signalized by the outbreak of an internal struggle over the class character of the Soviet Union.
The event which precipitated this controversy in the Trotskyist ranks was the conflict between Moscow and Chiang Kai-shek over the disposition of the Chinese Eastern Railway. The imperialist bourgeoisie and its liberal choir-boys, of course, backed Chiang. Their hue and cry about Soviet “imperialism” found reverberations among many workers and among the still scattered ranks of the Trotskyists.
Under the pressure of bourgeois public opinion elements professing adherence to Trotskyist ideas became hesitant about defending the USSR. Since some political justification had to be provided for this act of class desertion, attempts immediately ensued to revise the Marxist appraisal of the USSR.
The bellwether of this initial attempt at neo-revisionism was Hugo Urbahns, leader of the German oppositional group “Leninbund,” who advanced in 1929 the idea that the USSR really represented a new type of state – “neither capitalist nor proletarian.”
Trotsky unhesitatingly declared war against Urbahns and his co-thinkers. In September 1929 he wrote the first in a whole series of basic documents on the crucial question of the class nature of the USSR, because attempts to revise it were repeatedly made in Trotsky’s lifetime. Each time, beginning with Urbahns, Trotsky resolutely repulsed all those who simply played every possible variation on the theme originally scored by Urbahns in 1929.
Louzon, referred to in the text, was a French syndicalist, at the time one of the editors of La Revolution Proletarienne, organ of the Syndicalist League of France.
An English translation of this celebrated document, the first installment of which appears below, was originally published in The Militant. It has been checked against the Russian original and revised by John G. Wright. – Ed.
We have established that three tendencies exist in the international Communist movement, namely: the Right, the Centrist and the Left (Marxist) tendencies. But this classification does not exhaust the question, because it omits the ultra-Lefts. Meanwhile the latter continue to exist, engage in activities, commit blunders and threaten to discredit the cause of the Opposition.
To be sure, today there no longer are extant any, or hardly any, ultra-Leftists of the naive-revolutionary “aggressive” variety to whom Lenin devoted his famous book [The Infantile Sickness of Left-Communism]. Similarly, few ultra-Leftists of the 1924-25 formation (Maslow and others) have remained in the Opposition. The experience of defeats has not failed to leave its imprint. But the lessons of these years have been far from assimilated by all the ultra-Lefts. Some freed themselves of prejudices, while preserving the revolutionary spirit. But others dissipated the revolutionary spirit, while retaining the prejudices. At all events, there remain not a few ultra-Lefts infected with skepticism . They eagerly display a formal radicalism in all instances where they are not placed under an obligation to act. But in practical questions they most frequently incline toward opportunism.
Whereas reformism represents an irreconcilable enemy, ultra-Leftism represents an internal disease which acts as a deterrent in the struggle against the enemy. We must rid ourselves of this disease at all costs.
For several months I tried, through correspondence, to get from the Leninbund leadership a clear statement on the most fundamental questions of Communist politics. My attempts were in vain. The differences of opinion proved too great. Nothing remains except to bring them out into the open and submit them to a serious discussion. This is all the more necessary in view of the fact that the editorial board of the Leninbund publications has already initiated the discussion, after it became apparent that not only serious but positively decisive differences had arisen within the Left Communist Opposition over the Sino-Soviet conflict. Groupings have already been formed over this issue. Naturally, individual shifts will still take place. A number of comrades who have taken a wrong position will correct themselves. Others will, on the contrary, deepen their error and reach the logical conclusion, that is, they will break away completely from the Marxist position. This invariably happens in all deep-going disputes when hitherto undefined differences of opinion are submitted to the test of major events.
It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. There are all too many manifestations of ideological stagnation and routinism among the disjointed Oppositional circle-groups. A thorough discussion of major political differences of opinion will enable the viable elements and groups within the Opposition to find their proper place more easily and will thereby speed the process of ideological crystallization around real and not fictitious poles. On the question of the Sino-Soviet conflict there are two basic viewpoints, linked up with the most fundamental problems of the world revolution and of the Marxist method.
The most finished expression sui generis of the formalistic-Leftist viewpoint has been supplied by Louzon. It is easier for him because of his entire mental make-up. Comrade Louzon is not a Marxist but a formalist. He operates far better with geography, technology, and statistics than with the materialist dialectic of class society. One can often glean considerable information from his articles, but it is impossible to learn anything politically from them. Louzon is far more attracted by abstract national “justice” than by the actual struggle of the oppressed peoples for liberation. Louzon produces elaborate proofs that the Chinese Eastern Railway was built by Czarism for the purpose of seizures and plunder. He has a map showing that this railway crosses the heart of Manchuria. He proves by statistical data that Manchuria has been settled in recent decades by Chinese peasants. We thus get a Russian railway on Chinese soil side by side with the railways of other imperialist states. Wherein is the difference? asks Louzon. And he concludes that there is no difference, or virtually none. The treaty of 1924 was an imperialist treaty. Lenin would have returned the railway to China, that’s for sure. Louzon is positive about it.
In order to determine whether a policy bears an imperialist character in a given territory, it is enough according to Louzon to determine what nationality inhabits the given territory: “If Northern Manchuria were populated by Russians, the policy of the Czar and of the Soviet Union would be legitimate; but if it is populated by Chinese, then it is nothing else but the policy of robbery and oppression” (Revolution Proletarienne, August 1, 1929). It is hard to believe one’s eyes in reading these lines. The policy of the Czar and the policy of the workers’ state are analyzed exclusively from the nationalist standpoint and are therewith completely identified. Louzon proclaims the policy of the Czar in Russian provinces to be legitimate. Yet for us the Czar’s policy in Siberia was no less criminal, predatory and oppressive than in Manchuria. The policy of the Bolsheviks applies, for better or for worse, one and the same set of principles in Manchuria, in Siberia, or in Moscow, Comrade Louzon! In addition to nations there exist classes. The national problem separate and apart from class correlations is a fiction, a lie, a strangler’s noose for the proletariat.
Louzon’s method is not Marxism, but sheer schematism. It incurs this penalty, that almost all the Social Democratic publications without exception develop the same line of thought and arrive at the self-same conclusion. The decision of the Second International, elaborated under the leadership of Otto Bauer, completely reproduces the ideas of Louzon. How could it be otherwise? The Social Democracy is, of necessity, formalistic. It thrives on analogies between Fascism and Communism. In its eyes all those who “deny” democracy or violate it belong on the same plane. The supreme criterion is “democracy” which the reformists elevate (on paper) above the classes. Louzon acts in exactly the same way with the principle of national self-determination. This is all the more strange because Louzon as a syndicalist is sooner inclined to a formalistic denial of democracy. But it frequently happens with formalistic thinkers that while denying the whole, they reverently grovel before a part. National self-determination is one of the elements of democracy. The struggle for national self-determination, like the struggle for democracy in general, plays an enormous role in the lives of the peoples, particularly in the life of the proletariat. He is a poor revolutionist who does not know how to utilize democratic institutions and forms, including parliamentarianism, in the interests of the proletariat. But from the proletarian standpoint, neither democracy as a whole nor national self-determination as an integral part of it, stands above the classes; nor does either of them supply the highest criterion of revolutionary policy. This is the reason why we regard the Social Democratic analogies between Fascism and Bolshevism as charlatanism. For the same reason the equating of the Sino-Soviet treaty of 1924 with an imperialist treaty, on the basis of a [geometrical] law of symmetry, we regard as – the grossest blunder.
To whom would Louzon have wanted to cede the Chinese Eastern Railway in 1924? To the Peking Government? But this government lacked hands with which to take it; nor did it have legs with which to reach it. The Peking Government was a thread-bare fiction. The reality was: Marshal Chang Tso-lin, chieftain of hung hu tzu [Manchurian bandits], dictator-hangman of Manchuria, paid agent of Japan, mortal enemy of the national-revolutionary movement which erupted violently in 1925 and which became transformed in 1926 into an expedition of the South against the North, i.e., in the last analysis, an expedition against Chang Tso-lin. To surrender the railway to the Marshal would have meant in practice to make an alliance with him against the unfolding Chinese revolution. This would not have been a whit superior to the delivery of artillery and munitions to White Poland in 1920 during the latter’s war against the Soviet Republic. This would not have been the fulfillment of a revolutionary duty, but the most ignominious betrayal of the Chinese revolution, the real revolution, the one that is accomplished by the classes, and not an abstract shadow that haunts the head of Louzon and other formalists like him.
Entangling himself in contradictions, Louzon talks himself into this, that he reproaches the Soviet Government for having signed on September 20, 1924 a treaty with Chang Tso-lin “the most reactionary militarist that ever ruled in China.” Yes, he was the most reactionary. Obviously, instead of concluding a treaty with him, which protected the railway from this extreme reactionary, what should have been done, according to Louzon, was to simply make him a gift of it.
Naturally, the treaty of 1924 which abrogated all the imperialist privileges of Russia did not provide any absolute guarantees against Chang Tso-lin, because the latter had troops in Manchuria, while the Soviet troops were far removed from the scene. But however far away they may be, they exist nonetheless. Chang Tso-lin betimes engaged in raids, at other times he beat a retreat. He demanded, for example, that the railway transport his counter-revolutionary troops without any restrictions whatever. But the railway, basing itself on the treaty, put all sorts of obstacles in his path. He arrested the director of the railway, and then beat a retreat. For good and substantial reasons he placed no reliance upon his own forces alone. But Japan, for various reasons of her own, refrained from supporting him actively, but watched and waited. All of this was a great gain for the Chinese revolution, which unfolded from the South toward the North.
In order to demonstrate even more graphically the complete barrenness of Louzonian formalism, let us approach the question from another side. Everybody knows that in order to entrench themselves in a backward country, the imperialists often give arms to one tribe against another, to one province against another, to one class against another. That is how, for example, the United States systematically acts in paving its way into South America. On the other hand, everybody knows that the Soviet Government gave large-scale aid to the Chinese national-revolutionary army from the very first days of its formation, and especially during its Northern Expedition. The Social Democrats throughout the world shrieked, in chorus with their respective bourgeoisies, about the Soviet military “intervention” in China, viewing it only as a revolutionary cover for the old policy of Czarist imperialism. Is Louzon in accord with this, or isn’t he? This question is addressed to all the imitators of Louzon. We Bolsheviks hold just the contrary opinion: it was the elementary duty of the Soviet Government to come to the aid of the Chinese revolution – with ideas, men, money, arms. That the Stalin-Bukharin leadership has inflicted political injuries upon the Chinese revolution which outweigh by far the value of its material support, is a separate question with which we shall deal presently. But the Mensheviks accuse the Soviet Government of imperialism not because of Stalin-Bukharin’s line on the Chinese question, but for intervening in Chinese affairs, for giving aid to the Chinese revolution. Did the Soviet Government commit a crime by this intervention or did it render a service, Comrade Louzon? Personally I would find it hard to speak here of any services rendered, because the intervention constituted the fulfillment of an elementary duty, stemming from the interests of the Russian and the Chinese revolutions alike. Now let me ask: Was it permissible for the Soviet Government, while helping the South with its left hand, to surrender with its right hand the Chinese Eastern Railway to the North, against which the war was directed?
Our answer is: Inasmuch as the Soviet Government could not transfer its railway from the North to the South, it was bound, in order to facilitate the revolution’s offensive against the Northern militarists, to retain this railway firmly in its hands so as not to permit the imperialists and the militarists to convert it into a weapon against the Chinese revolution. That is how we understand revolutionary duty with respect to a genuine struggle for a genuine national self-determination of China.
Side by side with this there was another task. It was necessary to so conduct the policy in relation to the railway as to permit the Chinese masses, at least their advanced layers, to clearly grasp the liberationist aims and tasks of the Soviet Government with regard to China. I dealt with this in a previous article where I cited the decisions of the Commission of the Central Committee of the Russian party, formulated by me and adopted in April, 1926. The gist of these decisions was: We regard the Chinese Eastern Railway as one of the weapons of the world revolution, more specifically, of the Russian and Chinese revolutions. World imperialism can, of course, directly or indirectly, openly or covertly, wrest this railway from our hands. In order to avoid graver consequences we may find ourselves compelled to surrender it to the imperialists, just as we found ourselves compelled to sign the Brest-Litovsk peace. But until then, so long as we have the possibility and the power, we shall protect it from imperialism, in preparation for handing it over to the victorious Chinese revolution. Towards this end, we shall immediately establish schools for Chinese railwaymen with a view to educating them not only technically but politically.
But this is precisely what drives Chinese reaction to fury. A Reuters dispatch carries the following declaration of Wang, the present Foreign Minister of China:
The only way out for China is the unification of all nations in order to effectively resist Red Imperialism, otherwise China will perish in the tentacles of Communism.
Involved here, as we see, is not at all a struggle against imperialism in general. On the contrary, the Chinese Government appeals to imperialism for aid against “Red Imperialism,” which it identifies with the peril of Communism. Could one wish for a clearer, more precise, and more calculated formulation?
Louzon attempted to prove that the sympathies of the imperialist states are on the side of the Soviet Government against China. As a matter of fact, however, the only thing he proved was that on partial questions the attitude of the imperialists toward the Soviet Union is contradictory. To the extent that imperialism rests on the inviolability of property rights, to that extent it is constrained to concede the same rights to the Soviet Government, too. If this were not the case, then even trade, for instance, would be impossible between the Soviet Republic and the capitalist countries. But if it came to war, then the pretext for war, i.e., the question of who owned the railway, would completely fade into the background. The imperialists would approach the question solely from the standpoint of struggle against that danger which they label “Red Imperialism,” i.e., the international proletarian revolution.
It would not be amiss to recall in this connection the conduct of the White emigres in the Far East. Even the New York Times, August 17, 1929, wrote on this score that: “Here (in Washington government circles) the possibility is conceded that the White Russians may have provoked the incidents (border clashes) on the Chinese side, which would hardly have happened otherwise.” According to Louzon what is involved is China’s national self-determination. Chiang Kai-shek appears as the embodiment in life of democratic progress; the Moscow Government, as the embodiment of imperialist aggression. But the White emigres turn up for some unknown reason on the side of China’s national self-determination – against Russian imperialism. Doesn’t this single fact demonstrate how hopelessly Louzon entangled himself by replacing class policy with geography and ethnography? The White bandits who kill Red Army soldiers on the Far Eastern frontiers have in their own fashion a better grasp of politics than Louzon. They do not become entangled in secondary trifles but reduce the question to its essentials: the struggle of the world bourgeoisie against the revolution.
Departing from the class standpoint for the sake of an abstract-nationalistic position, the ultra-Lefts necessarily slide away from a revolutionary position into a purely pacifist one. Louzon relates how the Soviet troops captured in their day the Siberian railway and how later “the Red Army, in conformity with Lenin’s anti-imperialist policy, carefully came to a halt at the frontiers of China. There was no attempt to recapture the territories of the Chinese Eastern Railway” (Revolution Proletarienne, p.228). The highest duty of the proletarian revolution, it appears, is to carefully dip its banners before national frontiers. Herein, according to Louzon, is the gist of Lenin’s anti-imperialist policy! One blushes with shame to read this philosophy of “revolution in one country.” The Red Army halted at the frontier of China because it was not strong enough to cross this frontier and meet the inescapable onslaught of Japanese imperialism. If the Red Army were strong enough to assume such an offensive, it would have been duty-bound to launch it. A renunciation by the Red Army of a revolutionary offensive against the forces of imperialism and in the interest of Chinese workers and peasants and of the world proletarian revolution would not have meant the fulfillment of Lenin’s policy but a base betrayal of the ABC of Marxism. Wherein lies the misfortune of Louzon and others like him? In this, that he has substituted a national-pacifist policy for the internationalist-revolutionary policy. This has absolutely nothing in common with Lenin.
In its time the Red Army invaded Menshevik Georgia and helped the Georgian workers overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie. To this day, the Second International has not forgiven us for it. Georgia is inhabited by Georgians. The Red Army was composed mainly of Russians. With whom does Louzon side in this old conflict?
And what about the march on Warsaw in the summer of 1920? Louzon is perhaps aware that I opposed this campaign. But my objections were of a purely practical character. I feared that the toiling masses of Poland would not succeed in rising in time (war proceeds as a rule at a faster tempo than the revolution); and I was of the opinion that it would be dangerous for us to leave our base too far behind. This forecast was confirmed by events: the march on Warsaw was a mistake. But it was a practical error and not at all an error in principle. Had the conditions been more favorable, it would have been our direct duty to lend armed assistance to the revolution in Poland, as well as everywhere else. Yet it was precisely at that time that Lloyd George, Bonar Law and others accused us for the first time of Red Imperialism. This accusation was then picked up by the Social Democracy, and from there it has imperceptibly traveled to the ultra-Lefts.
Against revolutionary “intervention” Louzon quite inappropriately advances the old and uncontested principle: “The emancipation of the working class can be achieved only by the workers themselves.” On a national scale? Only within the framework of a single country? Is it permissible for workers in one country to aid the strikers of another? Can they send arms to insurgents? Can they send their army, if they have one? Can they send it either to help the uprising or in order to prepare an uprising, just as strikers send squads to pull out workers in factories that have remained behind?
While adopting a nationalistic-democratic standpoint, Louzon nevertheless refrains from carrying it consistently through to the end. For if the Chinese Government is truly fighting for national liberation against Soviet imperialism, then the duty of every revolutionist is not to give Stalin philosophic lectures on ethics but to give active aid to Chiang Kai-shek. From Louzon’s position, if it is taken seriously, it follows that one’s direct duty is to help China – by force of arms if possible – gain her national independence against the heirs of Czarism. This is plain as daylight. Louzon himself cites, quite properly, the fact that the Soviet government gave aid to Kemal against the imperialists. Louzon demands that the self-same principles be applied to China. Quite so: as against imperialism it is obligatory to help even the hangmen of Chiang Kai-shek. But right here the brave Louzon pauses in indecision. He somehow senses that the conclusion flowing from his position must read something like this: “Workers of the world, come to the aid of the Chinese government which is defending its independence against the assaults of the Soviet state!” Why then does Louzon stop midway? Because this sole consistent conclusion would simply convert our ultra-Leftist formalists into agents of imperialism and into political attorneys for those Russian White Guards who are now fighting arms in hand for China’s “liberation.” This lack of consistency does honor to the political instinct of the “ultra-Lefts” but not to their political logic.
At this point, Comrade Urbahns, together with his closest co-thinkers among the leadership of the Leninbund, injects himself into the controversy. In this, as in most other questions, they strive to straddle the fence. They publish an article by H.P., a disciple of Korsch, another article by Louzon, still another by Paz, an erroneous article by the Belgian comrades, a Marxist article by Landau and one by me. Then the editors finally come forward with an eclectic philosophy, borrowing two-thirds from Louzon and Korsch and one-third from the Russian Left Opposition. Rhetorically all this is covered by the formula: “Our agreement with Trotsky is not 100 percent.” Basing himself essentially on Louzon, Urbahns does not, nevertheless, remain content with geography and ethnography alone. His attempts to drag in a class standpoint, i.e., to bolster up Louzon with Marx, yield, however, truly sad results.
Let us give the floor to the programmatic article in Die Fahne des Kommunismus (the Leninbund’s theoretical organ) :
The railway represents to this very day a Chinese concession to a foreign government, which viewed from China’s side (?!?), differs only in degree (graduell?!) from all the other concessions held by the imperialist powers. (On the Russo-Chinese Conflict, Issue No.31, p.245.)
Here we still have pure Louzon. Urbahns is teaching the German revolutionists to appraise facts “from China’s side.” Meanwhile, the need is to appraise them from the proletarian side. National boundaries do not exhaust the issue.
First of all, it is sheerest nonsense to maintain that the proletarian state is obliged on the whole not to possess enterprises (“concessions“) in other countries. Here Urbahns, in the footsteps of Louzon, is simply taking a backstairs route to the theory of socialism in one country. The question of the workers’ state implanting industrial enterprises in backward countries is not simply an economic question but one of revolutionary strategy. If Soviet Russia has virtually failed to take this path, it was not out of principled considerations but because of technological weakness. Advanced, i.e., highly industrialized, socialist countries like England, Germany and France would be in every way interested in building railways, erecting plants and grain “factories” in backward countries, former colonies, etc. Naturally they will not be able to do this either through coercion or through magnanimous gifts. They would have to receive certain colonial products in exchange. The character of this type of socialist enterprise, their administration, their working conditions would have to be such as to raise the economy and culture of the backward countries with the aid of the capital, technology and experience of the richer proletarian states to the mutual benefit of both sides. This is not imperialism, nor is it exploitation, nor subjugation; it is, on the contrary, the socialist transformation of the world’s economic life. There is no other road at all.
For example, when the dictatorship of the proletariat is established in England, it will not at all be obliged to make a gift to the Indian bourgeoisie of the existing British concessions. This would be the stupidest possible policy, tending to enormously strengthen the power of the Indian capitalists and feudalists allied with them in relation to the Indian proletariat and peasantry; and it would retard the development of the socialist revolution in India for a long time. No! The workers’ state, while proclaiming the full freedom of the colonies, will be obliged to eliminate immediately any and all national privileges from the concessions, doing away with the law of the club on the one hand and degradation on the other. At the same time, without letting go of the concessions, the workers’ state will be bound to transform them not only into vehicles of India’s economic upbuilding but also of her future socialist reconstruction. Naturally, this policy, equally indispensable for consolidating Socialist England, could be carried through only shoulder to shoulder with the vanguard of the Indian proletariat and it would have to offer obvious advantages to the Indian peasants. Let us now endeavor, together with Urbahns, to view the question “from India’s side.” For the Indian bourgeoisie the socialist “concessions” will prove far worse than capitalist concessions, if only because they would mercilessly slash its profits for the benefit of Indian workers and peasants. Conversely, for the latter the socialist concessions will become powerful bases of support, a kind of socialist bastion where forces could be gathered in preparation for the socialist overturn. Naturally, as soon as the Indian proletariat assumed power, the former concessions would pass into its hands. The relations between the Indian and the British proletariat will be regulated not by memories of bourgeois property but by the higher principles of the international division of labor and of socialist solidarity.
There is, therefore, no simply Indian side, or simply “Chinese side.” There is the side of Chiang Kai-shek. There is the side of the advanced Chinese workers. There are countless shadings of the petty bourgeoisie. When Urbahns tries to look at the issue from “China’s side,” he in reality dons the spectacles of a Chinese petty bourgeois who is at a loss, in a difficult situation, to choose a position, and take sides.
Up to this point Urbahns repeats in the main only the arguments of Louzon. But then he goes on to “deepen” Louzon. If the editorial article of Die Fahne des Kommunismus is stripped of its reservations, equivocations and all other loopholes, its gist comes down to the following formula: Since the national revolution triumphed in China, while the counter-revolution has triumphed (or virtually triumphed, or is ineluctably bound to triumph) in Russia, therefore it follows that ... What follows? The article does not give a clear answer. Its eclectic philosophy performs precisely the service of dodging a clear-cut answer.
I consider it necessary for the exposition that follows to set down the following preliminary propositions:
At this point I am compelled to quote a long passage from Die Fahne des Kommunismus which tries in its leading editorial to explain those conditions which created a “national liberation movement” in China:
... (China’s) national liberation movement, revolutionary in its character, had its barb directly aimed at the imperialists and the Chinese proletariat found its class interests (!!) expressed in it. This revolution came to a halt (!) at the bourgeois stage; it brought Chiang Kai-shek’s military rule to the top, drowned in blood the Chinese proletarian revolution and the revolutionary peasant uprisings which infringed upon private property; and brought the Chinese bourgeoisie closer to the goals of the bourgeois revolution. One of these goals is national unification ... Imperialist concessions are a painful splinter in the flesh of this national unification of China ... The Chinese seek to get rid of it – through negotiations with the imperialist powers; in relation to Soviet Russia, which they regard as a much weaker opponent, they seek to accomplish it – through military assault. Therewith (!) decisive (massgebend ) for the Chinese military government is the fact that the Russian concession is, from the class standpoint, a more (?) dangerous factor than the concessions of the capitalist “hostile brothers.” This conflict ought to have been foreseen by everybody inasmuch as Chinese and Russian interests could not possibly cohabit peacefully in the China of the bourgeois revolution. Only a victorious Chinese revolution could have realized such a collaboration in life. Even if it had ended only in a workers’ and peasants’ China ...” (Loc. cit., Issue No.31, p.245.)
I do not recall ever encountering such a confusion of ideas-in twenty odd lines of type. At all events, it did not happen tome often. A whole page would be required to untangle each line. I will try to do it as briefly as possible, disregarding the secondary contradictions.
In its first part the passage deals with imperialist concessions, including the Chinese Eastern Railway, which, it is asserted, constitute a splinter in the flesh of China’s national independence. The Soviet Republic is here bracketed with the capitalist states. In its second part, the passage makes the assertion that “therewith” it is also decisive (!) that the Russian concession is more (?) dangerous from the class standpoint. And finally there follows a synthesis of these two mutually exclusive explanations, namely: the interests of China and Russia are irreconcilable in general. How so? Why so? From the first part of the quotation it follows that Russian imperialism is incompatible with China’s national unity. From the second part it follows that the interests of workers’ Russia are irreconcilable with those of bourgeois China. Which of these two diametrically opposed explanations does Urbahns choose? He does not choose between them but instead combines the two. How does he accomplish this? With the aid of a little adverb, “therewith” (dabei). Five German letters and the problem is – solved.
That the interests of the Soviet Republic and bourgeois China were irreconcilable, says Urbahns, ought to have been foreseen by everybody. Very well. This means that it is not at all a question of the railway or of the 1924 Treaty, doesn’t it? The irreconcilability in the relations between present-day China and the Soviet Republic only mirrors the irreconcilability of China’s own internal contradictions. Had Urbahns said that the Chinese bourgeoisie, which rests on bayonets, hates the Soviet Republic, whose mere existence is a source of revolutionary unrest in China, he would have spoken correctly. In addition, one would still have to say that its fear of its own oppressed masses is designated by the Chinese bourgeoisie as fear of Soviet imperialism.
Urbahns asserts that the bourgeois revolution has triumphed in China. This is the opinion of the international Social Democracy. What triumphed in China was not the bourgeois revolution but the bourgeois counter-revolution. This is not at all the same thing. Of the massacre of workers and peasants Urbahns speaks as of some internal detail of the bourgeois revolution. He even goes so far as to maintain that the Chinese workers found their class interests expressed (vertreten) in the national revolution, that is to say, in the Kuomintang, into which the Comintern drove them with a club. Such a standpoint is Stalinist, i.e., Social Democratic. The bourgeois revolution, insofar as it proved at all realizable in China as an independent stage, took place in 1911. But it took place only in order to demonstrate that a bourgeois revolution, completed to any degree whatever, is impossible in China. That is to say, that China’s national unification, her emancipation from imperialism and her democratic transformation (the agrarian problem!) are unthinkable under the leadership of the bourgeoisie. The second Chinese revolution (1925-27) showed by its entire course what the Marxists clearly saw beforehand, namely: the genuine solution of the tasks of the bourgeois revolution in China is possible only through the dictatorship of the proletariat, resting on the alliance of workers and peasants as against the alliance of the native bourgeoisie with imperialism. But this revolution cannot come to a halt at the bourgeois stage. It becomes converted into the permanent revolution, that is, it becomes a link of the international socialist revolution and shares the destinies of the latter. It is for this reason that the bourgeois counter-revolution, which triumphed with the help of Stalin-Bukharin, mercilessly crushed the movement of the popular masses and installed not a democratic regime but military-fascist rule.
In the first part of the foregoing quotation, Comrade Urbahn’s newspaper talks about the triumph of the bourgeois revolution in China. In the second part it proclaims that collaboration of China with Soviet Russia could be possible only in the event of “a victorious Chinese revolution.” What does this mean? After all, according to Urbahns, didn’t the bourgeois revolution triumph in China? Isn’t this exactly why it is trying to pluck the imperialist splinter out of its flesh? In that case, what other revolution is Urbahns talking about? Is it the proletarian revolution? Not at all. “Even if it had ended only in a workers’ and peasants’ China.” What does this “even” mean? It can mean nothing else but that the proletarian revolution is not involved here. Neither is the bourgeois revolution, not so? Then which one? Does it mean that Urbahns – like Bukharin and Radek – foresees the possibility of neither a bourgeois nor a proletarian dictatorship but of a special workers’ and peasants’ dictatorship in China? One ought to speak out on this more clearly, more boldly and more firmly, without seeking to hide behind the little word “even.” The Stalinist-Bukharinist orientation toward the Kuomintang originated precisely from this philosophy of a non-bourgeois and non-proletarian dictatorship. It is precisely on this point that Radek and Smilga first stumbled. Stalin, Bukharin and Zinoviev, and following in their footsteps Radek with Smilga, believe that as against world imperialism on the one side and the workers’ state on the other, a petty-bourgeois revolutionary dictatorship is possible in China. And after the experience with Russian Kerenskyism and with the Chinese Kuomintang, both of the Right and the Left, Urbahns timidly sings in tune with Radek on this question, upon which the fate of the whole Orient depends. Not for nothing does Urbahns reprint the extremely superficial and trite article of Radek on the question of the permanent revolution, while keeping silent on his own attitude to the question.
Let me add parenthetically that Radek’s article contains an absolutely fantastic bit of gossip to the effect that during my confinement in Alma-Ata I held back the exposure of Bukharin’s negotiations with Kamenev, because I hoped for a bloc with the Rights. What is the source of this? Yaroslavsky’s snuff box? Or Menzhinsky’s notebook? Radek is hardly the inventor of it. But Comrade Urbahns has so much space that he prints not only the novels of Sinclair but even the rantings of Yaroslavsky-Radek. Had Comrade Urbahns loyally turned to me for verification, I could have explained to him that the news of Bukharin’s negotiations with Kamenev reached me almost simultaneously with the report of Urbahn’s equivocal declarations concerning a bloc with Brandler. My reaction to this was set down in an article on the absolute inadmissibility of unprincipled blocs between the Left and Right Oppositions. This article was published only a few months ago by Brandler and only then was it reprinted by Volkswille.
But to resume, today it is not at all a question of repeating fraudulently selected fragments of 1905 quotations on the permanent revolution. This work of falsification has had sufficient efforts devoted to it by the Zinovievs, the Maslows and the like. It is a question of the entire strategic line for the countries of the East and for a whole epoch. One must state clearly whether a special democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants is conceivable and just wherein it would differ from the dictatorship of the Kuomintang on the one hand and from the dictatorship of the proletariat on the other. This brings us to the following question: Can the peasantry have an independent policy in the revolution – a policy independent in relation to the bourgeoisie and in relation to the proletariat? Marxism, enriched by the experience of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, replies: No, no, no. Following the lead of its top circles and of the petty bourgeois intellectuals, the peasantry either marches with the bourgeoisie – in that case what we get is SRism, Kerenskyism, or Kuomintangism. Or following the lead of its lower sections, the semi-proletarian and proletarian elements of the village, the peasantry marches with the industrial proletariat. In that case we have the path of Bolshevism, the path of October (i.e., the permanent) revolution.
It was on this question – and on no other – that Stalin and Bukharin broke the neck of the Chinese Communist Party and of the Chinese revolution. Zinoviev, Radek, Smilga, Preobrazhensky strayed between Stalinism and Marxism and this straying led them to ignominious capitulation. For the countries of the East this question draws the line of demarcation between Menshevism and Bolshevism. The fact that present-day Martynovs use as a fig-leaf the shreds of Bolshevik quotations from the year 1905, the very same quotations which Stalin, Kamenev, Rykov and others used to cover themselves against Lenin in 1917 – this masquerade can take in only fools or ignoramuses.  In China the Comintern realized in life the leadership of Martynov-Bukharin-Stalin, to the accompaniment of savage braying against the permanent revolution. Today this is the fundamental question for the countries of the East and it is therefore one of the basic questions for the West. Has Comrade Urbahns an opinion on this subject? No, he has not. He ducks for cover behind a particular little word, or what is worse, he hides behind an article of Radek, which he prints “just in case.”
If Comrade Urbahns is in a bad way with the Chinese Revolution, then the situation is still worse, if that is possible, when he comes to the Russian Revolution. I am referring here primarily to the question of Thermidor, and by this very reason, to the question of the class nature of the Soviet state. The formula of Thermidor is of course a conditional formula, like every historical analogy. When I employed this formula for the first time against Zinoviev-Stalin, I immediately underscored its wholly conditional character. But it is entirely legitimate, notwithstanding the difference between the two epochs and the two class structures. Thermidor signalizes the first victorious stage of the counter-revolution, that is, the direct transfer of power from the hands of one class into the hands of another, wherewith this transfer, although necessarily accompanied by civil war, is nevertheless masked politically by the fact that the struggle occurs between the factions of a party that was yesterday united. Thermidor in France was preceded by a period of reaction which unfolded while the power remained in the hands of the plebeians, the city’s lower classes. Thermidor crowned this preparatory period of reaction by an out-and-out political catastrophe, as a result of which the plebeians lost power. Thermidor thus does not signify a period of reaction in general, i.e., a period of ebb, of downsliding, of weakening of revolutionary positions. Thermidor has a much more precise meaning. It indicates the direct transfer of power into the hands of a different class, after which the revolutionary class cannot regain power except through an armed uprising. The latter requires, in turn, a new revolutionary situation, the inception of which depends upon a whole complex of domestic and international causes.
As far back as 1923, the Marxist opposition established the inception of a new chapter in the revolution, the chapter of ideological and political downsliding, which could, in the future, signify Thermidor. It was then that we employed this term for the first time ... Had the German revolution conquered toward the end of 1923 – as was entirely possible – the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia would have been cleansed and consolidated without any internal convulsions. But the German revolution ended in one of the most terrible capitulations in working class history. The defeat of the German revolution gave a powerful impetus to all the processes of reaction inside the Soviet Republic. Hence the struggle against the “permanent revolution” and “Trotskyism” in the Party led to the creation of the theory of socialism in one country, and so on. The ultra-Lefts in Germany failed to grasp the breaking-point that had occurred. With their right hand they supported the reaction in the Russian Communist Party, with their left hand they conducted a formally aggressive policy in Germany, ignoring the defeat of the German revolution and the incipient ebb. Like the Centrists in the RCP, the German ultra-Lefts (Maslow, Fischer, Urbahns) also covered up their false policy by a struggle against “Trotskyism” which they portrayed as “liquidationism“ – because they themselves saw the revolutionary situation not behind but ahead of them. The label of Trotskyism was in this case attached to the ability to appraise a situation and to differentiate correctly between the periods. It would be very profitable, let me add in passing, if Urbahns would at long last draw the theoretical balance sheet of this entire struggle which befuddled the minds of the German workers and paved the way for the victory of fatuous functionaries, adventurists and careerists.
The false “ultra-Left” course of 1924-25 tended still further to weaken the positions of the European proletariat and thereby accelerated the reactionary recession in the Soviet Republic. The expulsion of the Opposition from the Party, the arrests and the deportations constituted extremely important consecutive moments of the entire process. They signified that the Party was growing weaker and weaker and consequently that the power of resistance of the Soviet proletariat was also declining. But all this still far from signified that the counter-revolutionary overturn had already taken place, that is, that the power had passed from the hands of the working class to another class.
The fact that the Soviet proletariat found it beyond its strength to prevent the organizational crushing of the Opposition, represented naturally a highly alarming symptom. But on the other hand, Stalin found himself driven, simultaneously with the crushing of the Left Opposition, to plagiarize partially from its program in all fields, to direct his fire to the Right, and to convert an internal party maneuver into a very sharp and prolonged zigzag to the left. This shows that despite everything the proletariat still possesses powers to exert pressure and that the state apparatus still remains dependent on it. Upon this cardinal fact the Russian Opposition must continue to base its own policy, which is the policy of reform and not of revolution.
Even before the Opposition was crushed organizationally, we said and wrote more than once that after the Lefts have been lopped off, the Rights would prevent the Center with their bill. Those elements that supported Stalin in the struggle against us will start pressing with redoubled force as soon as the Left barrier was removed. That was our prediction. We expressed it frequently as follows: “The Thermidorian tail will come down on the Centrist head.” This has already taken place, and this will be repeated again and again. I have in mind not Bukharin or Tomsky but the powerful Thermidorian forces whose pale reflection the Rights are in the Party.
Despite the organizational crushing of the Opposition and the weakening of the proletariat, the pressure of its class interests combined with the pressure of the Opposition’s ideas proved sufficiently powerful to compel the Centrist apparatus to undertake a prolonged left zigzag. And it was precisely this left zigzag that created the political premise for the latest series of capitulations. The composition of the capitulators is naturally quite diversified, but the leading role is being played in the main by those who formerly imagined the process of down-sliding as purely one-sided and who were inclined at each new stage to proclaim that Thermidor had already been accomplished. On the eve of our expulsion from the party, the Zinovievist, Safarov, cried out in Berlin and later in Moscow, “It is five minutes to twelve!” that is, it is five minutes before Thermidor. Five minutes passed, and – Safarov capitulated. Even before Safarov, Radek desired, in connection with the expulsion of myself and Zinoviev from the Central Committee, to proclaim the inception of Thermidor. I tried to show him that it was only a party rehearsal for Thermidor , perhaps not even a dress rehearsal, but at all events not Thermidor itself, i.e., not the counter-revolutionary overturn which is accomplished by classes. Since 1926 Smilga held the opinion that the then policy of Stalin-Bukharin (“peasants enrich yourselves,” the Anglo-Russian Committee, the Kuomintang) could shift in one direction and one only – to the right . Smilga held that the October Revolution had exhausted its internal resources, and that aid could come only from the outside, but he had no hopes of this in the years immediately ahead. He wrote theses on this subject. The possibility of a break between the Centrists and the Rights and of a Centrist swing to the left, under the pressure of internal forces, was entirely absent from his perspective. On the question of Thermidor and of two parties, Radek and Smilga held the extreme “left” position within the Opposition. That is why the events caught them by surprise, and that is why they capitulated so easily.
This brief historical review should make it clear to the reader that the question of whether “Trotsky goes far enough,” or “not far enough” on the problem of Thermidor (as Urbahns formulates it), contains nothing new. We studied this whole cycle of questions long ago and reviewed them over and over again at each new stage.
On May 26, 1928 I wrote from Alma-Ata to the exiled comrade Mikhail Okudzhava, one of the old Georgian Bolsheviks as follows:
To the extent that Stalin’s new course sets itself tasks, it unquestionably represents an attempt to approach our position. What decides in politics, however, is not only the what, but the how and the who. The main battles which will decide the fate of the revolution, still lie ahead ... We always held, and we said so more than once, that the process of the political downsliding of the ruling faction cannot be pictured as a steadily dropping curve. Downsliding, too, does not take place, after all, in a vacuum but in a class society, with its profound internal frictions. The basic party mass is not at all monolithic, it simply represents, for the most part, political raw material. In it processes of differentiation are unavoidable – under the impact of class impulses both from the right and the left. The grave events which recently occurred in the Party and the consequences of which you and I are suffering, are only an overture to the future march of events. As an overture in an opera anticipates the musical themes of the opera as a whole and gives them in a condensed form, just so our political “overture” only anticipates those melodies which will find their full expression in the future, to the accompaniment of the tubas, double-basses, drums and other instruments of serious class music. The development of events confirms beyond the shadow of a doubt that we were and remain correct not only as against the weathercocks and turncoats, i.e., the Zinovievs, the Kamenevs, Pyatakovs and the rest, but also as against our dear friends on the “left,” the ultra-left muddlers insofar as they are bent to accept the overture for the opera, that is to say, to assume that all the basic processes in the Party and in the State have already been accomplished; and that Thermidor, of which they heard for the first time from us, is an already accomplished fact.
This is not a hint, Comrade Urbahns, it is the truth.
The source of a whole number of Comrade Urbahns’ false conclusions lies in the fact that he believes Thermidor to be already accomplished. To be sure, he does not draw all the necessary conclusions from this. But those few conclusions he has had the time to make are enough if they become intrenched, to ruin the cause of the Leninbund.
In an article devoted to my deportation from the Soviet Union, Die Fahne des Kommunismus wrote that “the Stalinist rule can no longer be regarded as representing the working class and it must therefore be combatted by any and all means. ” (February 1, 1929.)
The same article drew an identity between the deportation of Trotsky and the guillotining of Robespierre and his companions. In other words, Thermidor was proclaimed as accomplished. If this formulation of the question was arrived at in the heat of the moment, it would not be worth while dwelling upon. Political struggle is inconceivable without exaggerations, isolated mistakes committed, in gauging things by rule of thumb, and so on. One must not take the details but the basic line. Unfortunately the leadership of the Leninbund is stubbornly trying to convert this blunder into a basic line. Volkeswille of February 11 carries a resolution on the situation in Russia in connection with my deportation. This resolution flatly states: “This is Thermidor” (Das ist der Thermidor), and it goes on to add:
Hence flows the necessity for the Russian proletariat to fight for all the liberties against the Stalinist regime so that it may find itself equipped to cope with the impending open counter-revolution.
The leading article in Volkswille, February 13, states that “with the deportation of Trotsky the last line has been drawn under the Revolution of 1917.” It is hardly surprising that with such a position Urbahns is obliged to make ever more frequent declarations to the effect that he is not “one hundred per cent in agreement” with the Russian Opposition, because the Russian Opposition “does not go far enough.” Alas, Urbahns himself has kept going further and further – along the path of his original mistake.
Urbahns (like Radek) has converted the analogy with Thermidor, which is very important in the class sense, into a formal, and in part, personal analogy. Radek said: The expulsion of the Opposition from the Central Committee is equivalent to the elimination of Robespierre’s group from the government. The guillotine or exile to Alma-Ata – that is only a question of technique. Urbahns says: The crushing of the Opposition and the deportation of Trotsky is equivalent to the guillotining of Robespierre’s group. The broad historical analogy is superceded here by an arbitrary and cheap comparison of a personal and episodic character.
The Russian Revolution of the Twentieth Century is incomparably broader and deeper than the French Revolution of the Eighteenth Century. The revolutionary class on which the October Revolution rests is far bigger numerically, far more homogeneous, compact and resolute than the urban plebeians of France. The leadership of the October Revolution in all its tendencies is far more experienced and perspicacious than the leading groups of the French Revolution were or could be. Finally, the political, economic, social and cultural changes accomplished by the Bolshevik dictatorship are far more deep-going than the changes accomplished by the Jacobins. If it was impossible to wrest power from the hands of the plebeians without a civil war, although they had been weakened by the growth of class contradictions and the bureaucratization of the. Jacobins – and Thermidor was a civil war in which the sansculottes suffered defeat – how then can any one assume or believe that power can pass from the hands of the Russian proletariat into the hands of the bourgeoisie in a peaceful, tranquil, imperceptible, bureaucratic manner? Such a conception of Thermidor is nothing else but inverted reformism.
The means of production, once the property of the capitalists, remain to this very day in the hands of the Soviet state. The land is nationalized. The exploiting elements are still excluded from the Soviets and from the Army. The monopoly of foreign trade remains a bulwark against the economic intervention of capitalism. All these are not trifles. But that is not all. By the power of its attack, the Opposition has forced the centrists to deliver a number of blows – which are of course by no means mortal and far from decisive – to the Thermidorial class forces and the tendencies that reflect them inside the party. One must not shut his eyes to this. In general, a policy of blindfolding oneself is a poor policy.
The Stalinist left zigzag is just as little the “final balance” of the Thermidorian danger as the deportation of Oppositionists was the “final balance” of the October Revolution. The struggle continues, the classes have not yet spoken their final word. Centrism remains centrism; Bolsheviks must remain Bolsheviks; capitulators merit only contempt. And the ultra-Left muddle-heads must be called to order!
On May 1, 1928, Arbeiterstimme, organ of the Austrian Communist Opposition (Comrade Frey’s group), developed the following thoughts in an article entitled, Despite Stalin, Soviet Russia Is a Proletarian State:
There are political questions which serve as infallible touchstones ... And for the Left Communist Oppositions, which appear today as all sorts of groupings and shadings, there is likewise such a touchstone – it is the question of the proletarian character of Soviet Russia ... There are elements in the Left Communist Opposition who, in their indignation at Stalinist policy in all its manifestations, throw out the baby along with the dirty bath water. In certain minds the idea is arising that should the Stalinist policy persist, Russia must become transformed in a purely evolutionary manner into a bourgeois state ... Every type of degeneration in Soviet Russia is the product of the subversive work of the bourgeoisie which is being objectively fostered by the Stalinist course. In this way the bourgeoisie is seeking to prepare the downfall of the Soviet power. But to overthrow the proletarian dictatorship and to really seize power – this the bourgeoisie can achieve only through a violent overturn ... We fight against the Stalinist course. But Soviet Russia is something quite different from Stalin. Despite all the degeneration, which we fight and will continue to fight most resolutely, so long as the class-conscious workers are armed, Soviet Russia remains for us a proletarian state, which we defend unconditionally in our own interests, in peace at in war, in spite of Stalin and precisely in order to defeat Stalin who is incapable of defending it with his policy. Whoever is not absolutely firm on the question of the proletarian character of Soviet Russia, hurts the proletariat, hurts the revolution, hurts the Left Communist Opposition.
This formulation is absolutely irreproachable from the standpoint of theory. Comrade Urbahns would have done much better to reprint it in the organ of the Leninbund than to publish Korschist and semi-Korschist articles.
The article in the organ of the Leninbund, analyzed by us, tries to attack our position from another side. “Although Centrism,” the author argues against me, “is a current and a tendency inside the working class, it differs only in degree from another current and tendency inside the working class, namely – reformism. Both serve, even if in a different way, the class enemy.” (Fahne des Kommunismus, No.31, p.246.)
On the surface this has a very convincing ring. But in reality, Marxist truth has here been transformed into an abstraction and therewith into a falsehood. It is not enough to say that centrism in general or reformism in general constitutes a current inside the working class. It is necessary to analyze just what function is fulfilled by a given centrism, in a given working class, in a given country and in a given epoch. Truth is always concrete.
In Russia, centrism is in power. In England, reformism governs today. Both of them – Comrade Urbahns teaches us – represent a current inside the working class and they differ only in degree (graduell); both serve, even if differently, the class enemy. Very gqod, let us make note of this. But what tactic flows from this, say, in the event of war? Must Communists in Russia be defeatists like Communists in England? Or, on the contrary, must they be defensists in both countries, not unconditionally, to be sure, but with certain reservations? After all, defeatism and defensism are class lines and cannot be affected by second-rate distinctions between Russian centrism and British reformism. But here, perhaps, Comrade Urbahns himself will recall a few things and make the necessary correction ... In England the factories, the railways, the land belong to the exploiters, the state rules over colonies, that is, remains a slave-holding state; and the reformists there defend the existing bourgeois state, defending it not very skillfully nor very cleverly; the bourgeoisie regards them semi-distrustfully, semi-contemptuously, watches them jealously, keeps barking orders at them and is ready to chase them out at any moment. But for better or for worse the English reformists in power defend the domestic and foreign interests of capitalism. The same thing applies, of course, to the German Social Democracy.
But what is Soviet centrism defending? It is defending the social system that originated from the political and economic expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It defends this social system very poorly, very unskillfully, arousing distrust and disillusionment among the proletariat (which does not unfortunately dispose of the same experience as the British bourgeoisie). It weakens the dictatorship, helps the forces of Thermidor, but because of the objective situation Stalinist centrism nevertheless represents a proletarian and not an imperialist regime. This is not, Comrade Urbahns, a difference of “degree” but a difference between two class regimes. We have here the two sides of the historical barricade. Whoever loses sight of this fundamental difference is lost to the revolution.
But in that case, objects Urbahns, what is the meaning of your own words to the effect that Stalinism is inverted Kerenskyism? Improbable as it may seem it is precisely from this formula that Urbahns seeks to deduce the conclusion that Thermidor has already been accomplished. As a matter of fact, just the opposite conclusion flows most obviously from my formula. Kerenskyism was a form of bourgeois rule. It was the last possible form of bourgeois rule in the period of an impending proletarian revolution. It was a shaky, vacillating and unreliable form of rule, but it was nevertheless a bourgeois rule. For the proletariat to attain the transfer of power, nothing more nor less was required than an armed uprising, the October Revolution.
If Stalinism is inverted Kerenskyism, then this means that ruling centrism is, on the road to Thermidor, the last form of the rule of the proletariat, weakened by domestic and foreign contradictions, by the mistakes of its leadership, by lack of its own activity. But it is nevertheless a form of proletarian rule. The centrists can be replaced either by the Bolsheviks or by the Thermidorians. Is any other interpretation really conceivable here?
By the way, I do recall that another interpretation is conceivable. From my formula of “inverted Kerenskyism” the Stalinists have drawn the conclusion that the Opposition is preparing an armed uprising against the rule of centrists, just as, in our day, we prepared the uprising against Kerenskyism. But this is obviously a fraudulent interpretation, dictated not by Marxism but by the requirements of the GPU; and it cannot withstand the slightest touch of criticism. Precisely because centrism is inverted Kerenskyism, it is the bourgeoisie and not the proletariat that requires an armed uprising for the conquest of power. Precisely because Thermidor has not been accomplished, the proletariat can still realize its tasks through a profound internal reform of the Soviet state, of the trade unions and above all, of the party.
It must be acknowledged that in the article examined by us there seems to be a half-step backward with regard to Thermidor. But this hardly improves matters. Is Soviet Russia a bourgeois state? The article answers: no. “Have we still a proletarian dictatorship in Russia?” Again the article answers: no. Then what have we got? A state beyond classes? A state above classes? To this the article answers: In Russia we have a government which “apparently mediates between classes, but which in reality represents the interests of the economically stronger class.” (Issue No.32, p.246. My emphasis.) Without stating openly which class it considers “stronger,” the article nevertheless leaves no doubt that it refers to the bourgeoisie. But, after all, a government which appears to mediate between the classes but which in reality represents the interests of the bourgeoisie, is a bourgeois government. Instead of declaring this openly, the author resorts to circumlocution, which does not attest to intellectual frankness. There are no governments beyond classes. In relation to the proletarian revolution Thermidor signifies the transfer of power from the hands of the proletariat into the hands of the bourgeoisie. It can signify nothing else. If Thermidor has been accomplished, it means that Russia is a bourgeois state.
But is it true that in the Soviet Republic the bourgeoisie is “the economically stronger class?” No, it is nonsense. The author apparently does not at all take into consideration the fact that by making such a contention he places a cross not over Stalin but over the October Revolution. If the bourgeoisie is already economically stronger than the proletariat; if the relation of forces is shifting in its favor “with giant strides” (mit Riesenschritten), as the article states, then it is absurd to speak of the further maintenance of the dictatorship of the proletariat, even if it has survived, as a vestige, to the present day. Happily, however, the representation of the Soviet bourgeoisie as the economically stronger class is simply a phantasy, and nothing more.
Urbahns may reply to us that the article has in mind not only the domestic but the world bourgeoisie. But this does not improve matters at all. The world bourgeoisie is far stronger economically than the Soviet state. No one disputes this. That is why the theory of socialism in one country is a vulgar national-reformist Utopia. But this is not our way of posing the question. The productive and political role of the world proletariat enters as a most important factor into the relation of forces. The struggle takes place on a world scale, and the fate of the October Revolution is decided in this struggle. Do the ultra-Lefts believe that this struggle is hopeless? Then let them say so. The changes in the world relationship of forces depend to a certain extent also upon us. By proclaiming, openly or semi-covertly, that present-day Soviet Russia is a bourgeois state and refusing, entirely or three-quarters, to support it against world imperialism, the ultra-Lefts of course place their little weight on the bourgeois side of the scales.
What distinguishes Stalin’s Soviet Republic from Lenin’s is not a bourgeois power and not a supra-class power but the elements of dual power. The analysis of this condition was long ago made by the Russian Opposition. By its policy the centrist government has given the bourgeoisie maximum aid to define itself and to create its unofficial levers of power, its channels of exerting influence on power. But as in every serious class struggle, the contest occurs over the ownership of the means of production. Has this problem already been settled in favor of the bourgeoisie? To make such assertions, one must either lose his mind altogether, or be without one to begin with. The ultra-Lefts simply “abstract” themselves from the socio-economic content of the revolution. They devote all their attention to the shell and ignore the kernel. Of course, if the shell has been damaged – and it has been – the kernel is also threatened. The entire activity of the Opposition is imbued with this idea. But between this and shutting one’s eyes to the socio-economic kernel of the Soviet Republic there runs an abyss. The most important means of production conquered by the proletariat on November 7, 1917 still remain in the hands of the workers’ state. Do not forget this, ultra-Lefts!
If Thermidor is accomplished, if the bourgeoisie is already “the economically stronger class,” it means that economic development has definitively shifted from the socialist to the capitalist track. But in that case one must be courageous enough to draw the necessary tactical conclusions.
What significance can restrictive laws against leasing land, hiring labor, etc., have if economic development as a whole is on the path of capitalism? In that case these restrictions are only a reactionary, petty-bourgeois Utopia, an absurd hindrance to the development of the productive forces. A Marxist must call things by their names and recognize the necessity of repealing reactionary restrictions.
Of what significance is the monopoly of foreign trade from the standpoint of capitalist development? It is purely reactionary. It obstructs the free inflow of commodities and capital. It hinders Russia from entering the system of the circulating channels of world economy. A Marxist is obliged to recognize the necessity of repealing the monopoly of foreign trade.
The same thing may be said of the methods of planned economy as a whole. Their right to exist and develop is justifiable only from the standpoint of a socialist perspective.
In the meantime, the Russian Opposition has always demanded, as it still does, more systematic restrictive measures against capitalist enrichment; it demands the preservation and strengthening of the monopoly of foreign trade and an all-sided development of planned economy. This economic platform acquires its full meaning only in connection with the struggle against the degeneration of the party and other organizations of the proletariat. But it is enough to assume that Thermidor is accomplished for the very bases of the Oppositional platform to become nonsensical. Urbahns is silent on all this. Apparently, he does not at all take into consideration the interdependence of all the basic elements of the problem. But by way of compensation he consoles himself and others by the fact that he is “not in one hundred per cent agreement” with the Russian Opposition. A cheap consolation!
While Comrade Urbahns and his co-thinkers do not draw all the conclusions that flow from an “accomplished” Thermidor, they do draw some of them. We have already read above that they deem it necessary for the Russian working class to reconquer “all liberties.” But here, too, the ultra-Lefts halt irresolutely on the threshold. They do not explain what liberties they have in mind, and in general they touch upon the subject only in passing. Why?
In the struggle against Stalinist bureaucratism, which expresses and facilitates the pressure of enemy classes, the Russian Opposition demands democracy in the party, the trade unions and the Soviets on a proletarian basis. It implacably exposes the revolting falsification of democracy which under the label of “self-criticism” is corroding and decomposing the very foundations of the revolutionary consciousness of the proletarian vanguard. But for the Opposition the struggle for party democracy has meaning only on the basis of the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It would be Quixotic, not to say idiotic, to fight for democracy in a party which is realizing the rule of a class hostile to us. In such a case, one could not speak of a class democracy in the party and in the Soviets, but of “general” (that is, bourgeois) democracy in the country – against the ruling party and its dictatorship. The Mensheviks have more than once accused the Opposition of “not going far enough” because it does not demand democracy in the country. But the Mensheviks and we stand on the opposite sides of the barricade, and at the present time – in view of the Thermidorian danger – more irreconcilably and hostilely than ever before. We are fighting for proletarian democracy precisely in order to shield the country of the October Revolution from the “liberties” of bourgeois democracy, that is, from capitalism.
It is solely from this standpoint that the question of the secret ballot should be considered. This demand of the Russian Opposition has as its aim to give the proletarian core the opportunity to straighten its back first in the party, and then in the trade unions, in order, with the aid of these two levers, then to consolidate its class positions in the Soviets. Yet Comrade Urbahns and some of his closest co-thinkers have sought to interpret this demand of the Opposition, which remains wholly within the framework of the dictatorship, as a general democratic slogan. A monstrous blunder! These two positions have nothing in common; they are mortally opposed to each other.
Speaking vaguely about “liberties” in general, Urbahns called one of these liberties by name: it is the freedom to organize. In the opinion of ultra-Lefts, the Soviet proletariat must conquer for itself the “freedom to organize.” That Stalinist bureaucratism is holding the trade unions now, at the time of the left zigzag, more tightly by the throat than ever before – this is incontestable. That the trade union organizations must be enabled to defend the interests of the workers against the growing deformations of the regime of the dictatorship, to this question the Opposition has long ago given its answer by word and deed. But it is necessary to have a clear conception of the aims and methods of the struggle against the centrist bureaucracy. It is not a question of winning the “freedom to organize” against a hostile class government, but of struggling for a regime under which the trade unions will enjoy – within the framework of the dictatorship – the necessary freedom to correct their own state by words and deeds. In other words, it is a question of the “liberty” which is, for instance, enjoyed by the powerful alliances of industrialists and agrarians in relation to their own capitalist state, upon which they exert pressure might and main, and, as is known, not without success; but it is not at all a question of “liberty” that the proletarian organizations possess or seek to get in relation to the bourgeois state. And this is not at all one and the same thing!
The freedom to organize signifies a “freedom” (we know its character very well) to carry on the class struggle in a society whose economy is based on capitalist anarchy, while its politics are kept within the framework of the so-called democracy. Socialism, on the other hand, is unthinkable not only without planned economy in the narrow sense of the term but also without the systematization of all social relations. One of the most important elements of socialist economy is the regulation of wages, and in general of the workers’ relations to production and to the state. We have pointed out above the role that trade unions must play in this regulation. But this role has nothing in common with the role of the trade unions in bourgeois states, where the “freedom to organize” is itself not only a reflection of capitalist anarchy but an active element in it. Suffice it to recall the economic role of the British coal miners in 1926. It is not for nothing that the capitalists together with the reformists are now carrying on a desperate and hopeless struggle for peace in industry.
Yet Urbahns advances the slogan of freedom to organize precisely in the general democratic sense. And indeed it would be impossible in any other sense. Urbahns formulates one and the same demand for Russia and for China and for the capitalist states of Europe. This would be absolutely correct – on one trifling condition, namely: if one recognizes that Thermidor is accomplished. But in that case it is already Urbahns himself who “does not go far enough.” To put forward the freedom to organize as an isolated demand is a caricature of politics. Freedom to organize is inconceivable without freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and all the other “freedoms” to which the decision of the February conference (Reichausschusses) of the Leninbund refers vaguely and without commentaries. And these freedoms are unthinkable outside the regime of democracy, that is, outside of capitalism. One must learn to think cue’s thoughts out to the end.
In connection with my remarks that we fight against the Stalinist faction, but defend the Soviet Republic to the end, Die Fahne des Kommunismus explained to me that “unconditional (?) support (?) of Stalinist policy (?) including its foreign policy” is impermissible and that I would admit this myself if only I “think my thoughts out to the end.” (No.31, p.246.) It is hardly surprising that I awaited with interest the conclusion of the article (in issue No.32); it was bound to produce the tactical conclusions from the theoretical contradictions which filled the first part of the article to overflowing; and in addition, it would teach people how to think their thoughts out to the end.
Between the first and second installments of the article a few things managed to become clear. In this interval Urbahns and his friends must have, one would gather, had time to receive the resolution of the Bureau of the Second International, which could not have failed to have a sobering effect upon them, because the agreement between the arguments of Otto Bauer and those of Louzon and Paz was quite astonishing.
However that may be, but in the second part of the article, Die Fohne des Kommunismus comes to the conclusion that the Soviet Republic must he defended even in the conflict with China. This is praiseworthy. But the astonishing thing is that the article, in arriving at this conclusion, polemicizes not against the Korschists, not against the ultra-Lefts, not against Louzon, not against Paz, but against the Russian Opposition. It would seem that the question of whether the Soviet Union ought to be defended or not is so important in and by itself that secondary and tertiary considerations would be relegated aside by it. This is an elementary rule of politics. But Urbahns and his friends proceed in an entirely different manner. At the most critical moment of the Soviet-China conflict they published articles of the ultra-Lefts, which, as I showed above, in essence call for the support of Chiang Kai-shek against the Soviet Republic. Only under the pressure of Marxists did the editors of Die Fahne, six months after the outbreak of the conflict, pronounce themselves in favor of defending the USSR. But here, too, they wage a struggle not against those who deny the elementary revolutionary duty of defense but against – Trotsky. Every mature political person must come to the conclusion that the question of the defense of the October Revolution plays for Urbahns a secondary role in this entire affair, and that his main task is to show that he is not in “one hundred per cent” agreement with the Russian Opposition. It evidently never occurs to Comrade Urbahns that any one who attempts to prove his independence by such artificial and negative devices only demonstrates in reality his complete lack of intellectual independence.
“Along with the sympathies to Soviet Russia and to Communism destroyed in the Chinese people by Stalin’s policy,” reads the second part of the article, “the fact that Russia resorts to war over the Chinese Eastern Railway when it did not lift a hand while Chiang Kai-shek and his military hordes wallowed in the blood of the Chinese workers and poor peasants, would undoubtedly play a role in the attitude of the Chinese people toward such a war.” (Fahne des Kommunismus, No.32, p.250.)
What is true and what has long ago been said is mixed up here with what is new and false. The crimes of the centrist leadership in China are absolutely unexampled. Stalin and Bukharin knifed the Chinese revolution. This is a historical fact which will penetrate more and more into the consciousness of the world proletarian vanguard. But to accuse the Soviet Republic of failing to intervene arms in hand into the Shanghai and Hankow events is to substitute sentimental demagogy for revolutionary policy. In the eyes of Louzon every intervention, all the more so military intervention into the affairs of another country is “imperialism.” This is, of course, pacifist nonsense. But no less nonsensical is the directly contrary demand that the Soviet Republic, with its present strength, under the present international situation, should repair with the aid of Bolshevik bayonets the damage caused by Menshevik policy. Criticism must be directed along actual and not fictitious lines, otherwise the Opposition will never gain the confidence of the workers.
But what if the Soviet Republic decided to go to war over the Chinese Eastern Railway? As I already stated, if matters reached the point of war, this fact itself would show that involved was not the Chinese Eastern Railway but something infinitely more important. True enough, the Chinese railway, even taken by itself, is a far more serious object than the head of an Archduke, which served as the pretext for the war of 1914. But it is still not at all a question of the railway. War in the East, regardless of its immediate pretext, would inevitably be transformed on the very next day into a struggle against Soviet “imperialism,” that is, against the dictatorship of the proletariat, with far greater violence than the war over an Archduke’s head became converted into a war against Prussian militarism.
The matters now seem to be beading for an agreement between Moscow and Nanking, which may terminate in China’s buying the railway with the aid of foreign banks. This would actually mean the transfer of control from the hands of the workers’ state into the hands of finance capital. I have already stated that the cession of the Chinese Eastern Railway is not excluded. But such a cession must be regarded not as a realization of the principle of national self-determination but as the weakening of the proletarian revolution to the advantage of capitalist reaction. One need not doubt, however, that it is precisely Stalin and Co. who will try to picture this surrender of positions as a realization of national justice, in harmony with the categorical imperative, with the gospel according to Kellogg and Litvinov and the articles of Louzon and Paz published in the organ of the Leninbund.
The practical tasks of the Opposition in case of war between China and Soviet Russia are treated by the article in an unclear, ambiguous and evasive manner. “In case of war between China and Soviet Russia over the Chinese Eastern Railway,” says Die Fahne, “the Leninist Opposition takes its stand against Chiang Kai-shek and the imperialists who back him up” (No.32, p.250). Ultra-left muddling has brought matters to a point where “Marxists-Leninists” find themselves compelled to declare “we take our stand against Chiang Kai-shek.” This shows how far they have driven themselves. Good, you are against Chiang Kai-shek. But whom are you for?
“In such a war,” the article replies, “the Leninist Opposition will mobilize all the forces of the proletariat in every country for a general strike, taking as the starting point the organization of resistance to the manufacture of armaments, any kind of transport of munitions, and so on” (idem). This is the position of pacifist neutrality. For Urbahns, the task of the international proletariat does not consist in aiding the Soviet Republic against imperialism, but in preventing any kind of munition shipments, that is, not only to China but also to the Soviet Republic. Is that what you mean? Or have you simply said not what you wanted to say but something else? Have you failed to think your thoughts “out to the end”? If that is so, then make haste to correct yourself: the question is important enough. The correct formulation would read as follows: We do everything in our power to prevent shipments of arms to counter-revolutionary China and do everything in our power to facilitate the acquisition of arms by the Soviet Republic.
To illustrate wherein the viewpoint of the Leninbund differs from the viewpoint of the Russian Opposition, Urbahns makes two revelations: 1) If, in case of war between the Soviet Republic and China, an imperialist state intervenes in the war on Russia’s side, then the Communists of this bourgeois state should not make civil peace with their bourgeoisie, in accordance with Bukharin’s teachings, but must orient themselves toward the overthrow of their bourgeoisie. 2) In defending the Soviet Republic in the war with the Chinese counter-revolution, the Opposition must not reconcile itself with the Stalinist course, but wage a resolute struggle against it. It follows that this supposedly covers the difference between the Leninbund’s position and ours. In reality this is a muddle, and, I am afraid, a deliberate one. These two theses, dragged in by the hair, do not apply to the Sino-Soviet conflict as such, but in general to every war against the Soviet Republic. Urbahns dissolves a specific issue in generalities. Neither Louzon nor Paz have up till now denied the duty of the international proletariat to defend the Soviet Republic if it is attacked, for example, by the United States and Great Britain over the payment of Czarist debts, the abolition of the monopoly of foreign trade, the denationalization of banks and factories, etc. The discussion has arisen over the specific character of the Sino-Soviet conflict. It is precisely on this question that the ultra-Lefts showed their inability to evaluate particular and complex facts from a class standpoint. And it is precisely to them that the Leninbund has thrown open the columns of its publications. It is precisely in connection with their slogan “Hands off China,” that Die Fahne refrained from expressing its own views for six weeks, and when it no longer was possible to remain silent, limited itself to half-way, equivocal formulations.
What has Bukharin’s theory to do with all this? What has the question of suspending the struggle with Stalinist centrism to do with all this? Who proposed it? Who spoke of it? What is this all about? Why is this necessary?
This is necessary in order to hint that the Russian Opposition – not the capitulators and the turncoats, but the Russian Opposition – is inclined to make peace with Centrism, using the war as a pretext. Since I am writing for uninformed or poorly informed foreign comrades, I consider it necessary to recall, even if very briefly, how the Russian Opposition has posed the question of its attitude toward the Stalinist course under the conditions of war.
At the moment when there was a break in the Anglo-Soviet relations, the Russian Opposition, contemptuously rejecting the lie of defeatism or of conditional defensism, declared in an official document that during wartime all the differences of opinion would become posed more sharply than in peacetime. Such a declaration made in the land of the revolutionary dictatorship, at the moment of the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Great Britain does not require any commentaries; and, at all events, it offers far more serious guarantees than any little articles written on the sidelines.
A savage struggle ensued in 1927 over this question. Have Urbahns and his co-thinkers ever heard anything about the so-called “Clemenceau thesis”? With this thesis in its hands, the apparatus convulsed the party for months. The whole point was that as an example of a patriotic opposition in the camp of the imperialists I cited the Clemenceau clique, which despite the civil peace proclaimed by the bourgeoisie, conducted a struggle from 1914 to 1917 against all the other factions of the bourgeoisie and insured the victory of French imperialism. I asked: could there be found a fool in the camp of the bourgeoisie who would on this account designate Clemenceau as a defeatist or a conditional defensist? This is nothing else but the famous “Clemenceau thesis” which was subjected to criticism in thousands of articles and tens of thousands of speeches.
The other day my book, La Révolution Défiguré was published in Paris. Among other things it contains my speech at the joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission on August 1, 1927. Here is what I said in this speech on the question that interests us now:
The greatest events in the history of mankind are revolution and war. We have put the Centrist policy to the test in the Chinese revolution ... Next to the revolution the greatest historical test is war. We say beforehand: There will be no room during the events of war for the Stalinist and Bukharinist policy of zigzags, side-stepping and subterfuges. This applies to the entire leadership of the Comintern. Today the only test put to the leaders of the foreign Communist parties is the question: Are you ready to vote night and day against “Trotskyism”? But the war will confront them with far weightier demands. There will be no room for the intermediate position of Stalin. That is why, permit me to say this frankly, all this talk of a handful of Oppositionists, of generals without an army, and so forth and so on, seems utterly ludicrous to us. The Bolsheviks have heard all this more than once – both in 1914 and in 1917. We foresee tomorrow all too clearly, and we are preparing for it ... Nor will there be any room for the gradual Centrist back-sliding with respect to internal policies under the conditions of war. All the controversies will congeal, the class contradictions will become aggravated, the issues will be posed pointblank. It will be necessary to give clear and precise answers ... Under the conditions of war the Centrist policy must turn either to the Right or to the Left, that is, take either the Thermidorian road or the road of the Opposition. (Commotion in the hall) And it is precisely this speech that I concluded with the words, “For the socialist fatherland? Yes! For the Stalinist course? No!”
And when apropos of precisely these words, Urbahns and his friends advise me two years later to think out the question to the end and to comprehend that it is impermissible to become reconciled with Centrism in time of war, I can only shrug my shoulders regretfully.
It is an ill wind that blows no good. The Sino-Soviet conflict has shown once again that an irreconcilable ideological demarcation is required within the Marxist Opposition not only from the right but also from the left. The philistines will sneer over the fact that we, a tiny minority, are constantly occupied with internal demarcations. But that will not disturb us. Precisely because we are a tiny minority whose entire strength lies in ideological clarity, we must be especially implacable towards dubious friends on the right and on the left. For several months I tried to obtain clarity from the Leninbund leadership by means of private letters. I did not succeed. In the meantime the events themselves posed one of the most important questions point-blank. The differences of opinion came out into the open. The discussion began.
Is that good or bad? The article in Die Fahne lectures me on the advantages of discussion and points to the harm caused by the absence of discussion in the Communist International. I have already heard once or twice before these same ideas; I do not recall whether it was from Comrade Urbahns or someone else. But there are discussions and discussions. It would have been far better if the Sino-Russian conflict had not caught the Leninbund by surprise. There was ample time in the past to prepare for it. The question of Thermidor and of the defense of the USSR is not a new one. It is fortunate that there was no war. But suppose there had been one? All this is not an argument against discussion but against an incorrect leadership that maintains silence on important questions until they break out into the open against its will. The fact is that the Leninbond, at least in its top circles, proved to be unprepared to answer a question posed by life itself. There was nothing left to do but to open a discussion. But to this very day, I have not found in the publications of the Leninbund any sign of an internal discussion in the organization itself. The editors of Die Fahne made a one-sided selection of ultra-Left articles from foreign oppositional publications, making the ridiculous article of a “sympathizing” Korschist the basis of the entire discussion. The editors themselves remained on the sidelines, as if they wanted to find out what would come of it all. Despite the exceptional gravity of the problem, Urbahns wasted week after week, confining himself to reprinting foreign articles directed against the Marxist point of view. Only after the appearance of my article, that is, six weeks after the outbreak of the conflict in the Far East, did the editors of Die Fahne find it opportune to express themselves. But even then they were in no hurry. Their brief article was divided into two installments. The political conclusions were put off for still another week. For what purpose? Was it perhaps to make room for Radek’s slanders of the Russian Opposition which appeared in the same issue? But what was the line of the Leninbund on the most important question in international politics in the course of these six or seven weeks? No one knows.
This is no good. Such methods weaken the Leninbund and render the best possible service not alone to Thaelmann but also to Brandler.
It is clear to those who are acquainted with the history of the Russian Opposition that Urbahns expresses in an ambiguous manner the very opinions that the Stalinists have so maliciously and unconscionably attributed to the Russian Opposition. While dishonestly concealing our documents from the workers, the Stalinists tirelessly repeated and printed in tens of millions of copies that the Russian Opposition considers the October Revolution lost, Thermidor accomplished and that it steers a course toward bourgeois democracy. It is unquestionable that Stalin’s organizational successes were assured in no small measure by the tireless circulation of these lies. How great must be the astonishment, and at times the outright indignation of Russian Oppositionists when they find in the publications of the Leninbund, in a semi-masked form, this friendly counsel that they take the path that the Stalinists have long ago foisted upon us.
The question is all the more acute because there happen to be among the ultra-Lefts little gentlemen who whisper in each other’s ear that the Russian Opposition itself agrees that Thermidor has been accomplished, but refrain from saying so, out of “diplomatic” considerations. How far removed must one be from a revolutionary position to allow even for a moment the existence of such revolting duplicity among revolutionists. We can say one thing: the poison of Zinovievist and Maslowist cynicism has left its traces in the ranks of the ultra-Lefts. The sooner the Opposition rids itself of such elements, the better for it.
The programmatic article we have analyzed, which is seemingly a summary of the “discussion,” contains in passing a number of allusions to the effect that Urbahns was correct on various questions and everybody else was wrong (the declaration of the Russian Opposition on October 16, 1926; the question of creating the Leninbund not as a faction but as an independent party, running its own candidates, the question of May Day and August 1, 1929, etc.). In my opinion it would have been better if the article had not raised these questions, because each of them marks a specific mistake of Comrade Urbahns which he has failed to grasp to this very day. And I am not even referring to the utterly false position of 1923-1926 when Urbahns, following in the footsteps of Maslow and others, supported the reaction in the Russian Communist Party and conducted an ultra-Left course in Germany. If necessary, I am prepared to return to all these questions and to show that Urbahns’ mistakes are inter-connected, that they are not accidental but originate in a certain method of thinking which I cannot call Marxist. In practice, Urbahns’ politics consists of oscillating between Korsch and Brandler, or of mechanically combining Korsch and Brandler.
In this pamphlet we have analyzed differences of opinion which may be called strategical. Compared to them, the differences over the internal German questions might appear more as differences over tactics, although they, too, are perhaps reducible to two different lines. But these questions must be analyzed independently.
Nevertheless it is beyond doubt that at bottom of many of Comrade Urbahns’ mistakes is his incorrect attitude toward the official Communist Party. To regard the Communist Party – not its apparatus of functionaries but its proletarian core and the masses that follow it – as a finished, dead and buried organization, is to fall into sectarianism. As a revolutionary faction, the Leninbund could have played a big role. But it cut off its own road to growth by its pretensions, which to say the least are not motivated, to play the role of a second party.
Given the ideological vagueness of the Leninbund, its striving to become a “party” as quickly as possible leads it to accept in its ranks elements that have completely broken with Marxism and Bolshevism. In its anxiety to hold on to these elements, the Leninbund leadership consciously refrains from taking a clear position on a whole number of questions, which naturally only confuses and aggravates the situation, driving the disease deeper internally.
There exist today not a few “left” groups and grouplets who keep marking time, safeguarding their independence, accusing one another of not going far enough, priding themselves on not being in one hundred per cent agreement with one another, publishing little newspapers from time to time, and finding satisfaction in this illusory existence, without any firm ground under their feet, without any distinct point of view, without any perspectives. Sensing their own weakness, these groups, or more correctly their leaderships, fear most of all lest they fall under someone’s “influence,” or lest they have to declare their agreement with somebody else. For in that case what would become of that sweet independence whose size is 64 cubic meters required for an editorial office?
There is yet another danger connected with this.
In the Communist International the ideological leadership of the Russian party has long ago been replaced by the domination of the apparatus and the dictatorship of the cash box. Although the Right Opposition is no less energetic than the Left in protesting against the dictatorship of the apparatus, our positions on this question are nevertheless diametrically opposite. By its very nature opportunism is nationalistic, since it rests on the local and temporary needs of the proletariat and not on its historical tasks. Opportunists find international control intolerable and they reduce their international ties as much as possible to harmless formalities, imitating therein the Second International. The Brandlerites will salute the conferences of the Right Opposition in Czechoslovakia; they will exchange friendly notes with the Lovestone group in the United States, and so on, on the proviso that each group does not hinder the others from conducting an opportunist policy to its own national taste. All this is concealed beneath the cloak of struggle against bureaucratism and the domination of the Russian party.
The Left Opposition can have nothing in common with these subterfuges. International unity is not a decorative facade for us, but the very axis of our theoretical views and our policy. Meanwhile there are not a few ultra-Lefts – and not in Germany alone – who under the flag of the struggle against the bureaucratic domination of the Stalinist apparatus, carry on a semi-conscious struggle to split up the Communist Opposition into independent national groups and to free them from international control.
The Russian Opposition has no less need of international ties and international control than any other national section. But I am very much afraid that Comrade Urbahns’ conduct is not dictated by his desire to intervene actively in Russian affairs – which could only be welcomed but, on the contrary, by his desire to keep the German Opposition separate and apart from the Russian.
We must watch vigilantly lest under the guise of struggle against bureaucratism there entrench themselves within the Left Opposition tendencies of nationalistic isolationism and ideological separatism, which in turn would lead inescapably to bureaucratic degeneration – only not on an international but national scale.
If the question were asked after thorough consideration: from which side is the Left Opposition at present menaced by the danger of bureaucratization and ossification, it would become perfectly clear it is not from the side of international relations. The hypertrophied internationalism of the Comintern could arise – on the basis of the former authority of the Russian Communist Party – only thanks to the existence of state power and state treasury. These “dangers” do not exist for the Left Opposition. But there are others instead. The fatal policy of the bureaucracy produces unrestrained centrifugal tendencies, and fosters desires to retire into one’s own national and therefore sectarian shell, for by remaining within the national framework the Left Opposition could be nothing but sectarian.
These few points, which far from cover all the questions, seem to me the most important and the most pressing.
Constantinople, September 7, 1929
1. For twenty years (1903-1923) Martynov was the chief theoretician of Menshevism. He became a member of the Bolshevik Party when Lenin was already on his sick-bed and the campaign against Trotskyism was on its way. The October Revolution prior to the NEP was accused by Martynov in 1923 of Trotskyism. Today this creature is the chief theoretician of the Comintern. He remains true to himself. But he uses quotations from Lenin to cover up his old fundamental line. Several factories are in operation for the selection and falsification of these quotations.
[When published in Fourth International magazine in four installments, the third installment carried the following editors’ note: “The analogy with Thermidor as employed in the text of this document was used by Trotsky to denote an actual shift of power from the hands of one class to another, i.e., the triumph of the bourgeois counter-revolution in the Soviet Union. In 1935 Trotsky found this analogy to be inexact, and employed the term thereafter to designate a reactionary development which occurred ’on the social foundation of the revolution,’ and which therefore did not alter the class character of the state. The reasons for this correction were treated at length by Trotsky in his article, The Soviet Union Today – The Workers’ State and the Question of Thermidor and Bonapartism (New International, July 1935) – Ed.”]
Last updated on: 22.4.2007