A Documentary History of the Fourth International

Leon Trotsky

To the Editorial Board
of Prometeo

(June 1930)

Written: June 19, 1930.
Source: Fourth International [New York], Vol.8 No.8 (Whole No.81), September-October 1947, pp.254-255.
Translated: Fourth International.
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.

Resuming the publication of documents which illuminate how Leon Trotsky built the Fourth International in constant struggle against revisionists of all types, including the sectarians, we publish below the last in a series of letters written during this period (1929-30) to Anradeo Bordiga and his group in Italy. Previous letters to the Bordiguists appeared in the June 1947 issue of FI. – Editor.

To the Editorial Board of Prometeo

June 19, 1930

Dear Comrades,

Your extensive letter, dated June 3, received. Unfortunately, instead of dispelling misunderstandings, it increases them.

1. There is no “contrast” whatever between my last Open Letter and my last year’s answer to your own open letter. All that separates them is several months of intense activity by the International Communist Left. At that time a certain amount of vagueness in your position could have appeared as episodic, and in part even unavoidable. Quite obviously, the conditions in which Comrade Bordiga, the authoritative leader of your faction, found himself might have explained for a while the dilatory character of your position (without, of course, reducing its harmful aspects). In replying to your Open Letter, I took this very important, even if personal, circumstance fully into account. I am sufficiently acquainted with Comrade Bordiga, and value him highly enough to understand the exceptional role he plays in the life of your faction. But, as you will undoubtedly grant yourselves, this consideration cannot cover all the others. Events are taking place, new questions are arising and clear answers are needed. Today the conservative vagueness of your position is becoming a more and more dangerous symptom.

2. You say that in all this time you have not departed by an iota from the platform of 1925, which I had called an excellent document in many respects. But a platform is not created so as to “not to depart from it,” but rather to apply and develop it. The platform of 1925 was a good document for the year 1925. In the five years that have elapsed, great events have taken place. In the platform there is no answer whatever to them. To attempt replacing answers to questions which flow from the situation in 1930 by references to the 1925 platform is to up. hold a policy of vagueness and evasiveness.

3. You explain your failure to participate in the Paris Conference (of the International Left Opposition) by the miscarriage in the mails of our letter of invitation. If nothing more were involved, it should have been so openly stated in the press. I found no such notice by your group in Verité. Has it perhaps appeared in Prometeo? However, it’s clear from your whole letter that it’s not at all a case of a miscarriage in the mails.

4. You say that “ideological preparation for the Conference was totally lacking.” To me this assertion seems not only false but downright fantastic. In France the ideological preparation was especially intense and fruitful (Verité, La Lutte de Classe, pamphlets). In all countries last year there took place an intense ideological struggle which led to a differentiation from alleged “co-thinkers.” The break with Souvarine and Paz in France, Urbahns in Germany, Pollack’s little group in Czechoslovakia and others, was the most important element in the ideological preparation for the conference of genuine revolutionary Communists. To ignore this most important work is to approach the problem not with a revolutionary but a sectarian criterion.

5. Your conception of internationalism appears to me erroneous. In the final analysis, you take the International as a sum of national sections or as a product of the mutual influence of national sections. This is, at least, a one-sided, undialectical and, therefore, wrong conception of the International. If the Communist Left throughout the world consisted of only five individuals, they would have nonetheless been obliged to build an international organization simultaneously with the building of one or more national organizations.

It is wrong to view a national organization as the foundation and the international as a roof. The interrelation here is of an entirely different type. Marx and Engels started the communist movement in 1847 with an international document and with the creation of an international organization. The same thing was repeated in the creation of the First International. The very same path was followed by the Zimmerwald Left in preparation for the Third International. Today this road is dictated far more imperiously than in the days of Marx. It is, of course, possible in the epoch of imperialism for a revolutionary proletarian tendency to arise in one or another country, but it cannot thrive and develop in one isolated country; on the very next day after its formation it must seek for or create international ties, an international platform, an international organization. Because a guarantee of the correctness of the national policy can be found only along this road. A tendency which remains shut-in nationally over a stretch of years, condemns itself irrevocably to degeneration.

6. You refuse to answer the question as to the character of your differences with the International Opposition on the grounds that an international principled document is lacking. I consider such an approach to the question as purely formal, lifeless, not political and not revolutionary. A platform or program is something that comes as a result of extensive experiences from joint activities on the basis of a certain number of common ideas and methods. Your 1925 platform did not come into being on the very first day of your existence as a faction. The Russian Opposition created a platform in the fifth year of its struggle; and although this platform appeared two and a half years after yours did, it has also become outdated in many respects.

When, later on, the program of the Communist International was published, the Russian Opposition replied with a criticism of it. This critique, which was – in essence and not in form – the fruit of collective work, was published in several languages, as have been most of the documents of the Opposition in recent years. On this terrain there occurred a serious ideological struggle (in Germany, in the United States). Problems of trade union policy, “The Third Period,” the Five-Year Plan, collectivization [of Russian agriculture], the attitude of the Left Opposition toward the official [Communist] parties, and so on all these principled questions were submitted in the recent period to serious discussion and theoretical elaboration in the International Communist press. This is the only way of preparing the elaboration of a platform, or more accurately, of a program. When you declare that you haven’t been offered a ready-made “programmatic document,” and that consequently you are unable to answer questions concerning your differences with the International Left, you thereby disclose a sectarian conception of methods and means for arriving at an ideological unification; you demonstrate how isolated you are from the ideological life of the Communist Left.

7. The groups that united at the Paris Conference did not at all aspire to mechanical monolithism, nor did they set it as their goal. But they are all united in the conviction that the living experience of the last few years assures their unity, at least, to the extent of enabling them to continue collaborating in an organized form on an international scale, and in particular, of preparing a common platform with the international forces at their disposal. When I inquired how deep-going were your differences with the International Left, I did not expect a formalistic answer, but a political and revolutionary reply to the following effect: “Yes, we consider it possible to proceed to work together with the given groups, among whom we shall defend our own views on a number of questions.”

But what was your answer? You declare that you will not participate in the International Secretariat until you receive a programmatic document. This means that others must, without your participation, work out a programmatic document, while you reserve the right of final inspection. How much further is it possible to go along the road of dilatoriness, evasion and national isolation?

8. Equally formalistic is your statement that you find unacceptable the statutes of the French Communist League, which solidarize with the first four World Congresses of the Communist International. In all likelihood, there is not a single French comrade who holds that everything in the decisions of the first four Congresses is infallible and immutable. It is a question of the basic strategic line. If you refuse to rest on the foundations lodged by the first four Congresses, then what is there left for you in general?

On the one hand, you refuse to accept the decisions of the first four Congresses as the basis. On the other, you flatly reject or ignore the programmatic and tactical work of the International Left in recent years. What then do you propose instead? Can it be the very same platform of 1925? But with all its virtues this platform is only an episodic document which doesn’t offer today an answer to a single one of the current problems.

9. Strangest of all is the impression produced by the section of your letter where you talk with indignation about “an attempt” to create a new Opposition in Italy. You speak of a “maneuver,” of a new “experiment in confusion,” and so forth. So far as I am able to judge, this refers to a new split inside the ruling centrist faction of the Italian Communist Party, with one of the groups striving to draw closer to the International Left. Wherein is this a “maneuver?” What’s the “confusion” about? Whence does confusion emanate? The fact that a group, splitting from an opponent faction, is seeking to merge with us, represents a serious gain. Naturally, the merger can take place only on a principled basis, i.e., on the basis of the theory and practice of the International Left. The comrades who belong to the Italian Opposition have sent me personally letters and a number of documents. I replied fully and explicitly to the questions these comrades put to me. I will continue to do so in the future as well. For my part, I, too, put a number of questions to these comrades. In particular, to my query concerning their attitude to the Bordiguists I received an answer that despite the existing differences of opinion, they consider collaboration both possible and necessary. Where is there any “maneuver” here?

On the one hand you consider that the International Opposition does not merit sufficient confidence for you to take part in its collective labors. On the other, you evidently deem that the International Opposition has no right to get in touch with Italian Communists who declare themselves in solidarity with it. Dear comrades, you lose all proportions and you go too far. This is the usual fate of shut-in, isolated groups.

Naturally, it may be considered unfortunate that relations and negotiations with the new Italian Opposition are going on without your participation. But the fault is yours. To take part in these negotiations you should have taken part in the entire activity of the International Opposition, that is, entered its ranks.

10. As concerns the Urbahns group, you request information concerning its entire activity so as to be able to take a definite position. And you recall in this connection that in the platform of the Russian Opposition, the Urbahns group is mentioned as being ideologically close. I can only express my regret that up ’til now you have not deemed it your duty to arrive at a definitive opinion on a question that has agitated the entire International Opposition for many months; led to a split in Germany and later to the formation there of a united Left Opposition, completely severed from Urbahns. What is implied by your reference to the Russian platform? Yes, in its time we defended the Urbahns group (just as we defended Zinoviev’s group) against Stalin. Yes, we once thought we could succeed in straightening out the political line of the entire Urbahns group.

But history did not come to a standstill. Neither in 1925 nor in 1927. After our platform was published, events of no small importance took place. The Zinovievists capitulated. Leninbund’s leadership began to evolve away from Marxism. Inasmuch as we do not cut political ties lightly, we tried in dozens of articles and letters to get the Leninbund to change its policy. We did not succeed. A number of new events pushed the Urbahns group still further away. A considerable section of his own organization broke with Urbahns. Political evolution is chock-full of contradictions. Not infrequently it has carried, as it still will, yesterday’s cothinkers or semi-co-thinkers to the opposite sides. The causes for the split between the International Opposition and the Leninbund were discussed publicly by the entire Oppositional press. I have personally said everything I had to say on this subject in a special pamphlet. [The Defense of the Soviet Union and the Opposition, see FI, October and December, 1946, February and March, 1947.] I have nothing to add, all the more so because we are discussing here accomplished facts. You raise this question not in connection with the facts themselves but in connection with my letter. This shows once again the extent to which you ignore the actual political and theoretical life of the International Opposition.

With Communist greetings,
L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 15.4.2007