Leon Trotsky

A Letter to a Comrade

The British Election
and the Communists

(November 1931)

Written: 10 November 1931.
Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 34 (Whole No. 93), 5 December 1931, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2013. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Dear Comrade:

One of my English friends wrote to me on the 9th of October, prior to the parliamentary elections, about the fast growth of the Communist Party, and of a certain approach of the rank and file members in the I.L.P. towards Communism. My correspondent speaks also of a regrowth of the Minority Movement in the trade unions and the growing leadership of the same Minority in the sporadic strike movements. These isolated instances in the background of the world crisis and the national crisis which England is going through allows us to accept the idea that in the last two years there has been a strengthening of the Communist Party. The elections brought an absolute disillusionment in this respect. Of the many hundreds of thousands of votes which the Laborites lost, the Party at best swung to its support 20,000, which is, in consideration of the increased total number of voters, an invalid conjunctural fluctuation, and not by any means a serious political conquest. Where is the influence of the Party among the unemployed? Among the coal miners? Among the young generation of workers who, for the first time, voted? Actually, the election results are a horrible condemnation of the policies of the Party and the Comintern.

I have observed very little the tactics of the British Party during the last year and I do not want to give judgment about what it learned, or whether it really learned anything. However, it is clear to me that independent from its recent and latest errors, the Communist Party is paying by its impotence of the past year, for the shameful and criminal politics of the Comintern, bound up with the Anglo-Russian Committee and later with the “Third Period”. These errors were ruinous especially for England.

Traditions of the English Proletariat

It surprises one anew, what a terrible load of humiliation, conservatism, bigotry, conciliation, respect to the summits, to titles, to riches, to the Crown drags in its thoughts the English working-class which is at the same time capable of grand revolutionary insurrections (Chartism, pre-war movements of 1911, movements following the war, the strike movements of 1926).

The English proletariat, the oldest, with the most traditions, is, in its thinking methods, most empirical, carries in its chest two souls, and turns, as it were, with two faces to historical events.

The contemptible mercenary and servile bureaucrats of the Trade Unions and the Labour Party give expression to all that is rotten, humiliating, serf-like and feudal in the British working-class. Against this, the tasks of the Communist Party consist in giving expression to the potential revolutionary qualities of the British working-class, which is very great and capable of developing immense explosive powers. But in the very critical period of British history, 1925-1927, all the politics of the British Communist Party and the Comintern consisted in the slave-like assimilation of the Trade Union leadership, its idealization, blotting out its treason, and fastening the confidence of the working-class to it. The young British Communist Party was because of this deeply demoralized. The whole authority of the October Revolution, U.S.S.R., Bolshevism, was in this year attached to the support and solidification of the conservative and servile tendencies of the British working-class.

The Laborites Use the Stalinites

After the Laborites had utilized the Stalinites to the end and kicked them aside, the chapter of Trade Unionism was mechanically substituted under the caption of the ultra-Left jump to the glory of the “Third Period”. The slogan of “Class Against Class” was now issued, interpreted as a slogan of the struggle of a handful of Communists against the “social-fascist” proletariat. When yesterday Purcell and Cook were friends and trustworthy allies of the Soviet Union, today the workers who vote for Purcell and Cook transformed themselves into class enemies. This is the political orbit of the British Communist Party, or, rather, of the Communist International. Can we expect another surer way to trample the prestige of Communism and to undermine the confidence of the Party by the awakening workers?

Tine Moscow bureaucracy of the C.I. at every step runs against a blind alley with its nose, commands a turn either to the Left or to the Right. That is not difficult. All these Kuusinens, Manuilskys, Losovskys, etc., are apparatus men, free not only of serious Marxian training and revolutionary horizon, but also – and this is the important thing – from every control of the masses. Its politics has a pure chancery character. A tactical turn is for them only a new circular. The C.C. of the British Communist Party, according to its strength, carries out the orders. But all of these circulars, through the corresponding politics, transport themselves into the consciousness of the workers. The bureaucratic bankrupts believe that one can mechanically fasten our leadership, onto the working class: on the one side with the aid of cash and repression, on the other side with the help of abrupt leaps the blotting out of traces, with lies and calumnies. But this is totally untrue.

The English workers think slowly since their consciousness is filled with the rubbish of centuries. But they think. Single articles, appeals, slogans, generally pass them by unnoticed. However, whole periods of politics (Anglo-Russian Committee, “Third Period”) in no respect pass without a trace, at least, with the most progressive, militant, critical and revolutionary section of the working class. When one imagines the education of the revolutionary consciousness as the cutting of threads on a screw, one must say that the leadership of the Comintern, at each time, does not employ the proper tool nor proper caliber, and not in the direction necessary, thereby breaking the grooves, crumbling and demolishing. Without the smallest exaggeration one can confirm that from 1923, (for England especially from 1925) had the Comintern not existed, we would have today in England an incomparably more important revolutionary party. The last elections illustrate with power that frightful conviction.

Tasks of the British Left Opposition

Here begins the task of the Left Opposition. The English Communists, among whom are naturally many devoted, honest, self-sacrificing revolutionaries, cannot but be discouraged with the results of a decade of activity, and that in the exclusively opportune conditions. Pessimism and indifference can also take hold of very good revolutionaries when they do not understand the causes of their own weaknesses, nor find the way out. Criticism, i.e., in the light of Marxism that openly illuminates the path of the Party, its zig-zags, its errors, the theoretical roots of these errors – that is the foremost and necessary condition for the regeneration of the Party. It is especially necessary, when this has not been done, to begin the publication of the most important documents of the International Left Opposition concerning the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee. This is the point of departure for the English Left wing.

The Left Opposition in England, just as Communism generally, has the right to count upon a promising future: British capitalism falls from great historical heights to an abyss – that is clear to all One can, with assuredness, say that the recent elections represent the last gigantic rise of the national “grandeur” of the British bourgeoisie. However, it is the rise of a dying lamp. For these elections, official English politics will in the coming period pay heavily.

The bankruptcy of the great national heroes of the three parties, just as the bankruptcy of British capitalism, are absolutely inevitable. Despite all obstacles from the C.I., the mole of the British revolution borrows much too good its earthly path. One has every right to hope that these elections are the last rise of reliance of the millions of workers on the capitalists, lords, intellectuals, educated and rich persons, those united with MacDonald and the Sunday Pudding. These gentlemen will find no secret. The real secret is this: the Proletarian Revolution. Just as the actual elections prepare the smash of the conservative and servile soul of the English proletariat, it will be followed by the powerful blossom of their revolutionary soul.

Yet, immediately the victory of the conservatives brings heavy trials for the English proletariat and the deepening of international dangers. Especially does this endanger the U.S.S.R. Here we can see what little aid was brought to the U.S.S.R. through the uninterrupted cry for her “defense”. For a period of two or three years, one expected this defense from Purcell. Hicks, Citrine and later this defense was taken by the Communist Party against the “social-fascist” proletariat. And now, it has in the defense of the U.S.S.R. all in all received 70,000 votes. All that the Left Opposition demanded, the rupture of the shameful block with Purcell, was charged by Stalin as a refusal to defend the U.S.S.R. from British imperialism. Now we can draw the balance: Nobody has given such service to the expiring British Imperialism as the Stalin school. Of course, the chief of this school earned two orders of the Garter.

The British Left Opposition must begin systematic work. You must establish our staff-center, though a small one. You must build your own publication, even on a modest scale ... It is necessary to have a steady, uninterrupted activity, analysis, critique and propaganda. It is necessary to educate our cadres, although in the first stages few. The fundamental power of history is in our favor. When, in England, more so than elsewhere, Communism in a short time can conquer the consciousness of the wide masses, so can conquer, in the same short time, within the Communist movement, the supremacy of the ideas of the Left Opposition, that is, the ideas of Marx and Lenin. I sincerely wish our British friends success on this path.

Kadikoy, November 10th, 1931

With best Communist greetings,

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Last updated on: 24.2.2013