Leon Trotsky

An Open Letter to All
Members of the Leninbund

(February 6, 1930)

Written: 6 February 1930.
Source: Fourth International [New York], Vol.8 No.4 (Whole No.77), April 1947, pp.118-121.
Originally published: The Militant, Vol. III No. 13, 29 March 1930, p. 4 & 8.
Translated: The Militant.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

1947 Introduction by Fourth International

The first dispute over the Russian question, prior to the international consolidation of the Left Opposition, the forerunner of the Fourth International, occurred in 1929–30 and involved the German oppositional group, the Leninbund. Trotsky’s main programmatic document in this dispute, the polemic against Urbahns, leader of the Leninbund, was published in our issues October and December 1946 and February and March 1947.

This struggle lasted for a period of five to six months and led to the calling by the Leninhund leadership of a plenum, February 23, 1930, at which Urbahns and his followers expelled from their organization all those who held the position of the Russian and International Opposition.

Trotsky’s open letter to the Leninbund membership, which numbered between 400–500 at that time, was written about two weeks before this plenum.

For previous documentation the reader is referred to the other articles in this series which began in May 1946. – Editor.

Esteemed Comrades:

From the circular letter issued by the Leninbund leadership on January 29, 1930, it is clear that the Leninbund conference scheduled for February 23 has as its aim to sanction the split, by the expulsion of the Marxist Opposition. The leadership of the Leninbund itself has defined the purpose of the conference in this way.

I leave completely aside personal and organizational recriminations and charges. Naturally, they have a certain importance in the life of an organization but the question of unity or split is not decided by them but by principled differences, theoretical and political. The unity of an organization does not remain inviolate always and under all circumstances. In cases where differences have become very deep-going, a split may prove to be the only way out of the situation. But care must be taken that this be an honest split, that is, that the split occur along the line of actual principled differences, and that this line be clear to all the members of the organization.

From this point of view, I am compelled to say that the circular letters of the Leninbund leadership dated January 20 and January 29 not only prepare for a split, but do so in a most dangerous and pernicious manner, by placing in the forefront various squabbles and distorting the principled differences by means of false information. I shall try to prove this.

Has the Urbahns Faction Any Co-thinkers?

The basic difference occurs over the class character of the Soviet Union. This question is not national but international. No revolutionary organization exists or can exist without arriving at a decision on this question and without drawing all the necessary “internal” conclusions from it. It is impossible solving this international question.

The Leninbund leadership asserts in its circular letter that Urbahns’s standpoint on the “class character of Soviet Russia” is supposedly shared by the following organizations: “the majority of the Belgian Opposition, the Treint group and the Contre le courant group in France, the Czech group, and a large section of the American group.”

This false assertion is calculated to take advantage of the lack of information among the Leninbund membership and is designed to grossly mislead them. Every local body of the Leninbund can verify this point by merely writing to all the above-named groups.

The leadership of the Belgian Opposition has published several erroneous articles on the question of the Chinese-Eastern Railroad. But it has emphatically differentiated itself from the Leninbund leadership on the question of the class character of the Soviet Union. This justifies us in regarding the mistake of the Brussels comrades as partial and episodic. Such mistakes are unavoidable in practice. To split over partial mistakes would be criminal. A split becomes unavoidable when partial deviations take shape as a false principled position. On the question of the class character of the Soviet Union there exists an irreconcilable difference between the Leninbund leadership and the leadership of the Belgian Opposition. Communicate with Brussels, comrades, and verify it for yourselves!

Two small French groups – Treint and Contre le courant – have hitherto held, at least formally, the viewpoint of the Russian Opposition on the fundamental questions. I am unacquainted with a single document in which they solidarize themselves with Urbahns on the question of the class character of the Soviet Union. Have they perhaps changed their views recently? I do not know. In any case you would render a great service not only to yourselves but also to the Treint and Paz groups by requesting their views on the class character of the Soviet Union as of February 1930.

The designation “Czech group” in the circular apparently refers to a small group of Prague students who, so far as I know, have no connection whatsoever with the working-class movement. This group issues no publication. Judging from its physiognomy I would grant that this group does actually share the point of view of Urbahns.

But the assertion in the circular concerning the American Opposition is a sheer invention. As is clear from its weekly The Militant, which is one of the best Communist publications, the Communist League of America has nothing in common with the point of view of Urbahns.

Therefore so far as the basic question in the dispute is concerned, the Leninbund leadership, if we leave aside the small group of Prague students, is completely isolated. Nor is this surprising! Developing and deepening his mistake, Urbahns in his latest articles has put forward a new theory of the state which in general has nothing in common with Marxist theory and which differs only verbally from an idealistic and democratic theory of the state.

Do Not Forget the International Opposition!

Both circular letters try to picture the situation inside the Opposition in the following manner: “Those who do not share the opinions of Comrade Trotsky do not belong to the Leninist Opposition.” This unworthy subterfuge is employed in order to cover up the isolation of the Leninbund leadership. And, indeed, why does Urbahns speak of “Comrade Trotsky’s opinions”? The Russian Opposition has a platform in the elaboration of which hundreds of comrades participated directly and in the struggle for which thousands of comrades were subjected to expulsions, arrests, deportations – and even execution squads. In view of this, to speak of the personal opinions of Comrade Trotsky is to evince a revolting disregard and disrespect toward the struggle of the Russian Opposition.

The Leninbund leadership in addition stubbornly ignores the Verité group in France which publishes a political weekly and a monthly theoretical journal, La Lutte de classes. Only a blind man could fail to understand that this group has become the axis around which the genuine Communist Left Opposition in France is becoming united.

The Communist League of America represents one of the best sections of the Opposition and it is growing. The Leninbund leadership ignores it. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the Belgian Opposition as a whole, despite the differences that have arisen in its midst, will not hesitate for a moment in choosing between the International Opposition and the Urbahns group. The Leninbund leadership shuts its eyes to facts and consoles itself and others with vain hopes.

All the three groups of the Austrian Opposition have a sharp negative attitude toward the platform of the Leninbund and especially toward its views on the class character of the Soviet state.

The Czech Left Opposition [Lenorovich’s group], which carries on activity among workers and is about to start issuing a newspaper, shares the viewpoint of the International Opposition on all fundamental questions.

The Chinese Opposition is no less irreconcilably opposed to the views of Urbahns.

Finally, the Leninbund leadership has no grounds whatever for expecting support from the Opposition in Italy, Spain, Hungary, and elsewhere.

This is the actual state of affairs: on the one side there stands the International Opposition and on the other – the purely national group of Urbahns.

If the Leninbund leadership is nevertheless able to lean for support on some foreign groups, it is only – and only up to a certain point – on the groups of Treint and Paz. But have they reached a principled agreement on any single question? Let them tell us openly.

Urbahns is in favour of an independent party. This is his principal idea. Up till now Treint and Paz have been against this. Have they arrived at an agreement? And on precisely what points?

Urbahns’s Bloc with Treint and Paz

Urbahns has once again put up his “independent” candidates in the municipal elections against the candidates of the Communist Party. With what results? The Leninbund has been further weakened. This suicidal policy flows from Urbahns’s idea of creating a second party. Are Treint and Paz in agreement with him? Let them declare themselves. Or perhaps these internationalists are not concerned with German affairs.

And how do matters stand with the trade-union question? Paz is for the “autonomy” of the trade unions but, in contrast to Monatte, he does not deny the need for a Communist Party. This is an old Jaurèsist position – diplomatic and opportunist to the core – a position which Marxists have always attacked and will continue to attack mercilessly. Does Urbahns adhere to the principle of trade-union “autonomy,” in this Jaurèsist sense? Or does Urbahns perhaps think that French affairs are none of his business?

On the other hand, do Treint and Paz associate themselves with the bloc between Urbahns and the Brandlerites inside the trade unions against the Communist Party? Or do Treint and Paz consider that Hamburg is none of their business?

What is Urbahns’s attitude toward the touching romance between Paz and the national “Communists” in Alsace? Or has Urbahns lost interest in Alsace after its cession to France?

But on what point did these three groups nevertheless succeed in arriving at an agreement? They are agreed only on the struggle against the Russian Opposition. They have all condemned Rakovsky’s declaration. They are far too revolutionary for such a “compromise.” How could it be otherwise! They recognize the policy of the united front with the Social Democracy, with the reformist trade unions, with the Brandlerites, with the Alsatian nationalists. But when it comes to the official Communist parties they consider the policy of the united front impermissible. And yet the fact is that if we examine Rakovsky’s declaration not demagogically but politically, we see that it represents nothing else than the application by the Opposition of a united-front policy toward the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Urbahns’s position on this question is explained by his orientation toward a second party. But how are we to explain the position of Treint and Paz? There is no explanation, except muddleheadedness and lack of principles.

In a word, everywhere and throughout, we have only reticences, diplomacy, ambiguities, and equivocations. The new allies do not dare to approach a single question seriously lest they overthrow their fresh alliance, built on sand. This is intellectual adventurism. It has never been successful, and never will be.

International Unification Is Indispensable

Several months ago the Leninbund leadership expelled from its ranks Comrades Grylewicz and Joko, who defended the views of the International Opposition. Thereby the Urbahns group had already in essence demonstrated that it refuses to work side by side with the International Opposition. For it is clear that we cannot permit two sets of opinions – one set for our own personal use and the other for public consumption. Such two-facedness has always characterized opportunists, in particular the Brandlerites. Their “internationalism” represents, as everybody knows, an arithmetical sum of national opportunist policies. With this we have nothing in common. Our international orientation and our national policy are indissolubly bound together.

From its very first steps the Opposition must therefore act as an international faction – as did the Communists in the days of the publication of the Communist Manifesto, or in the Zimmerwald Left at the beginning of the war. In all these cases the groups were for the most part small numerically or it was a matter of isolated individuals; but they nevertheless acted as an international organization. In the epoch of imperialism such a position is a hundred times more imperative than in the days of Marx.

Those who believe that the International Left will someday take shape as a simple sum of national groups, and that therefore the international unification can be postponed indefinitely until the national groups “grow strong,” attribute only a secondary importance to the international factor and by this very reason take the path of national opportunism.

It is undeniable that each country has greatest peculiarities of its own; but in our epoch these peculiarities can be assayed and exploited in a revolutionary way only from an internationalist point of view. On the other hand, only an international organization can be the bearer of an international ideology.

Can anyone seriously believe that isolated Oppositional national groups, divided among themselves and left to their own resources, are capable of finding the correct road by themselves? No, this is a certain path to national degeneration, sectarianism, and ruin. The tasks facing the International Opposition are enormously difficult. Only by being indissolubly tied together, only by working out answers jointly to all current problems, only by creating their international platform, only by mutually verifying each one of their steps, that is, only by uniting in a single international body, will the national groups of the Opposition be able to carry out their historic task.

This applies to all groups without exception, and above all to the Russian Opposition. Large circles of the Russian Opposition were scourged last year by an epidemic of capitulations precisely and exclusively because they were cut off from the Opposition in other countries, were unable to follow the life of the Communist International as a whole, were unable to think about its tasks, and for this reason permitted themselves to be easily deceived by the left zigzag of the Stalinists on the internal questions of the USSR.

The Left Opposition has already lost enough time. The disastrous evolution of the Leninbund, the mistakes of some national groups, the inability to make headway, and the stagnation of other national groups are due in a large and, it may be said, decisive degree to national isolation and to handicraft methods of political activity. If the Communist Left Opposition does not wish to come to an inglorious end, it must reject all dilatory moods and firmly consolidate its international ranks.

True and False Internationalism

The Brandlerites boast that they are not in agreement with any of the existing Russian groups. What does this mean? A revolutionary organization which is not in agreement with a single one of the Russian groups is thereby obligated to create a new Russian group which would carry out a correct line in the Soviet Union. Otherwise, it would simply have to proclaim itself “neutral” toward the October Revolution. The same thing applies to every other country. Communism can only be international, or it ceases to be Communism.

But what is the stand of the Leninbund leadership on this question? Is it in agreement with any of the Russian factions? We are not discussing, of course, any mechanical monolithism, but agreement on the fundamental questions. On this point we have no information whatever. For Urbahns this is obviously a secondary question, as are all questions relating to the international movement.

The Urbahns faction, which expels from its own ranks adherents of the International Opposition, is at the same time ready to ally itself on the international arena with any kind of “left” groups, on the condition, naturally, that they do not hinder it from pursuing its own national policy.

Sensing their “national” bankruptcy in their unprincipled struggle against La Verite, the allies of Urbahns – Treint and Paz – are dreaming about an international association that would include everybody: those who are for Chiang Kai-shek as well as those who are for the Soviet republic; those who are trying to save the “autonomy” of the trade unions from the encroachments of Communism as well as those who are fighting for the influence of Communism on the trade unions; those who are for the united front with the Rights against the official party as well as those who demand the united front with the official party against the Rights. This program of a “Greek salad” is put forward under the slogan of “party democracy.” Could one conceive of a more malicious mockery of party democracy?

We must say openly that under the guise of fighting against the bureaucratism of the Third International attempts are being made to smuggle the tendencies and practices of the Second International. The bureaucratism of the Third International did not fall from the sky: it has specific class causes.

The Comintern is conditioned by the internal class struggle. Theoretically this finds its expression in the contradiction that exists between the theory of socialism in one country and the very bases for the existence of the Comintern.

There are some national Communists who imagine that they are left Communists and who attribute to the Russian Opposition those traits which characterize ruling centrism – “We want nothing to do with either of them.” In other words, they replace the class and ideological criterion with a national criterion. In most cases this serves as a cover for the petty ambitions of a small circle of intellectuals who defend their precious “autonomy” against the dangers that threaten it from the side of – the Russian Opposition. Not infrequently this is coupled with ordinary chauvinist cowardice. In this way the ideas and moods of the Second International are introduced into our ranks. It is clear that nothing remains for us except to wage an irreconcilable struggle against this contraband.

It Is Necessary to Choose

We stand not for democracy in general but for centralist democracy. It is precisely for this reason that we place national leadership above local leadership and international leadership above national leadership. The revolutionary party has nothing in common with a discussion club, where everybody comes as to a café (this is Souvarine’s great idea). The party is an organization for action. The unity of party ideas is assured through democratic channels, but the ideological framework of the party must be rigidly delimited. This holds all the more for a faction. It must not be forgotten here, too, that we are not a party but a faction, that is to say, the closest possible selection and consolidation of co-thinkers for the purpose of influencing the party and other organizations of the working class. It would be fantastic and absurd to demand of the Left Opposition that it become a combination of all sorts of national groups and grouplets, who are dissatisfied, offended, and full of protests and who do not know what they want.

No, we represent a definite ideological tendency and we build on the soil of definite principles and traditions. If under these conditions the adherents of the International Opposition cannot find a place in the Leninbund, then thereby the Leninbund Anclares that it does not desire a place in the ranks of the International Opposition. We must take this clearly into account.

You see, comrades, that these questions are far more important than the petty squabbles on which Urbahns bases his prosecutor’s indictment. The fate of your organization is at stake. Every member of the Leninbund should understand that following the split in the Leninbund it will become completely transformed into an Urbahnsbund, that is, a tiny national sect, without any importance, without a future, without perspectives.

This means that a choice must be made. And for a genuine revolutionist it is not so very difficult to choose!

With Communist greetings,
Leon Trotsky

return return return return return

Last updated on: 1.9.2012