Leon Trotsky

Letter to the Communist League of Struggle

(May 1932)

Written: May 22 & 24, 1932.
First Published: 1932.
Source: Class Struggle, Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Vol. 2 No. 7, August 1932.
Also Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 37 (Whole No. 133), 10 September 1932, p. 3.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.

Comrade Weisbord:

Your organization on its own initiative has delegated you to get an exchange of views on questions, which separate you from the American League which is the section of the International Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists). In the course of several talks you have explained the opinions of your organization over the fundamental litigious questions. You have proposed that I put down in writing my conclusions from the talks which we have had. In the following lines, I shall try to do this without pretending in any way to exhaust the questions raised by you.

1. I am inclined to consider as the most important question the question of the “Labor Party”. Here it is a question of the essential instrument of the proletarian revolution. Every lack of clarity or ambiguity on that question is pernicious. The ideas developed by you for the defense of the slogan of the “Labor party”, I have criticized in a special document which I have given you. Here I deem it necessary to add only several words.

On the question of the Labor Party your organization is very near to the position of Lovestone, which is notoriously opportunistic. The Lovestone group is consistent in its denial of the independent historic role of the Communist Party. That group approves up to today the policy of the Comintern in regard to the Kuomintang and the British Trade Unions; that is to say, the capitulation in principle of Communism in the one case before the bourgeoisie and in the other case before the lieutenants of the bourgeoisie within the working class.

Your group, as far as I know, condemns the politics of the Stalinists in China and in Great Britain, but at the same time, it accepts the slogan of the Labor Party. That is to say: In taking or trying to take a Marxist position towards the past events in other countries, you take an opportunist position toward the future of your own country. I believe that without a radical revision of your position in the central question of the party, an effective re-approchement between your organization and the International Left Opposition cannot be affected.

2. Your group has rejected up to the present the definition accepted by us of the International Stalinist fraction as Bureaucratic Centrism. You start out from the view that one can give the name “centrism” only to those groupings which occupy the place between the official camp of reformism (Social-Democracy) and the official camp of Communism. Under this purely formalist, schematic, undialectical conception of centrism is hidden in fact a lack of clarity of the political position of your own group. You are concerned to efface the difference between the official party, the right wing fraction (Lovestone group) and even the American League. This makes it easy for you to remain in an eclectic position and defends your right of a bloc with the Lovestone group.

That the Lovestone group does not represent a purely reformist organization is incontestable, but the question is in its variety of right-wing centrism, which is evolving from Communism to Social-Democracy. The German Socialist Labor Party (SAP), which broke from the Social-Democracy, contains a more progressive tendency than the Brandlerites although according to the theoretical formulas the last are apparently nearer to us. Statistically, the Lovestone group, the German Brandleriter are all as the SAP represent varieties of right-wing centrism. But dynamically one is different from the other and it is the dynamics which decides.

Certainly, in a number of partial questions, the Lovestone group has taken a position more correct than the official party but to conclude a bloc with the Lovestone group would mean to augment its general authority and by that to help it to fulfill its reactionary historic mission.

I shall not stop here to go into more details on the question of centrism. I permit myself to refer you to my last brochure which will soon appear in America (What Next?).

Without clarity in this most essential question in my opinion a reapproachment between your fraction and the International Left Opposition can not be achieved.

3. Your criticism of the American League starts to a considerable degree from wrong premises (the most important of which are given above). At the same time, you give to your criticism a character so immoderate, exaggerated and embittered that it forces us to see in you an ideological nuance not in the camp of the International Left Opposition, but of the adversaries if not of the direct enemies.

Upon the basis of criteria, which are partly false, partly insufficient and arbitrary, you deny, as I have said, the existence of differences in principle between the American League, the Lovestone group and the official party. With this you declare not only that the leadership of the League is classed in an opportunist position but incapable of distinguishing between Marxism and opportunism on a most essential question. Is it that you are astonished after that that the Bolshevik-Leninists demand what binds you to the International Left Opposition?

4. You stress with special energy the necessity of active participation on the part of the Left Opposition in general in the movement and the struggle of the working masses. Although at the present stage, the Left Opposition is, in the majority of countries, a propagandist organization, it puts forth propaganda not in a sectarian but in a Marxist manner, that is to say upon the basis of participation in all the life of the proletariat. I am not able to admit that anyone of the leaders or of the members of the American League denies this principle. The question reduces itself to a great extent to the real possibility to which pertains also natural capacity, experience and initiative.

Let us admit, for a minute, that the American League lacks this or that possibility in mass work. I am ready to admit that your group would be able in that respect to complete the work of the American League. But mass work must be on the basis of definite principles and methods. Until the time that, in a number of fundamental questions a necessary unanimity will be attained disputes on “mass work” will inevitably remain lifeless.

5. Above, I have called the position of your group eclectic. By this I do not wish at all to express any condemnation as a whole which bars the possibility of a future reapproachment. The question is here also decided dynamically. You must openly, clearly, and attentively revise your baggage so as to take care to uncover by that not only your manifest political faults, but also the historical and principled roots of these faults. I have reacted with much warm praise to the thesis of the Second conference of the American League on the Labor Party because in this thesis there was taken not only a correct position in the essence of the question, but also there was given an open and courageous criticism of its own past. Only in this way can a revolutionary tendency assure itself seriously against a relapse.

6. Your group has raised up the slogan of an international conference with the participation of all the organizations and groups who count themselves with the Left. This way presents itself to me to be false to the roots. The International Left Opposition does not exist for the first day. In the struggle for its ideas and methods it has purified its ranks of foreign elements. The international conference can and must start from the ideological work already accomplished and to fortify its results and to systematize them. To enter on the road which was proposed by your group would mean to make a crest over the past and to return to the state of original chaos. Of that we cannot even speak.

The Left Opposition is not a mechanical sum of vacillating groups, but an international fraction erected on the granite basis of the principles of Marxism. A rapprochement and a fusion with the International Left Opposition is not able to be obtained through organizational manipulations or through adventurist combinations à la Landau. I was glad to hear from you that your group has nothing in common with Landau and his methods. Precisely for this reason, it is necessary to renounce once and for all the thoughts of transforming the International Left Opposition into a Noah—s Ark. It is necessary to choose another road less precipitated, but more serious and certain.

Before everything you must keep clearly in mind that the road to the International Left Opposition leads through the American League; a second road does not exist: Unification with the American League is possible only on the basis of unity of principles and methods which must be formulated theoretically and verified by experience.

The best thing would be, in my opinion, if you would devote a coming issue of your organ to a critical revision of your ideological baggage especially in regard to the litigious questions. Only the character of this revision (before all naturally its content but partially also its form) can demonstrate just to what degree the practical steps on the side of unification are really ripe.

The most important extracts of your articles could be printed in the International Bulletin as information material. Naturally the question will be decided by the American League. But all our sections will want to be informed. Not one of them will demand any concessions in principle from the American League. But, however, all of them will cooperate completely in the cause of a rapprochement and fusion if the existence of a common basis of principle will be confirmed.

It is not necessary to say that I shall be very glad if your trip here and our discussions will contribute to the going over of your group to the camp of the Bolshevik-Leninists.

May 22, 1932</ br>L. Trotsky

Postscript To The Letter To Comrade Weisbord

For the sake of better clarity I wish to add some remarks:

1. If I speak about the inadvisability of direct or indirect support of the Lovestone group of the Brandlerites in general I do not wish at all to say by that that these elements could not, under any circumstances, find for themselves a place in the Communist ranks. On the contrary, under a healthy regime of the Comintern the majority of the Brandlerites would have executed, without doubt, this or that useful work. One of the pernicious consequences of the Stalinist bureaucracy consists in this that it is compelled by each new empiric zig-zag under fear of its own collapse to push out of the party its allies of yesterday.

Zinoviev and Kamenoff represent highly qualified elements. Under the regime of Lenin they accomplished very responsible work in spite of their insufficiency which was well understood by Lenin. The regime of Stalin condemned Zinoviev and Kameneff to political death. The same thing can be said of Bucharin and many others. the ideological and moral decomposition of Radek is witness not only of the fact that Radek is not made of first class material but also of the fact that the Stalinist regime can rely only upon impersonal chinovniks or morally decomposed individuals.

However, it is necessary to take facts as they are in reality. The Brandlerites, chased out of the Comintern, and their worst section (the Lovestone group) have proved themselves condemned to political degeneration. Their ideological resources are zero. Masses they have not and cannot have. As an independent group, they are capable only of bringing confusion and decomposition. The sooner they will be liquidated the better. Which part of them will be transformed by this into Stalinist Chinovniks and which into Social-Democrats it is a matter of indifference.

2. The remark made above that the SAP contains elements more progressive than the Brandlerites must in no case be submitted to an enlarged interpretation. About a political bloc between the Left Opposition and the SAP with its actual obvious centrist leadership one cannot even speak. The progressive tendencies within the SAP can be uncovered only by our implacable criticism against the leadership of the SAP and also against the old Brandlerites, who are under it and who play within the SAP a manifestly reactionary role.

We cannot put your American Left Socialists at all on the same plane even with the centrist leaders of the SAP who at least have broken with Social-Democracy. By a correct policy of the Communist Party, the SAP, before its disintegration, could become a previous auxiliary instrument for the decomposition of Social-Democracy. As for the American Left Socialists we do not have the least reason to distinguish them from Hilquit that is to say to see in them anything else than agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class.

3. In the question of the labor Party you refer to the decision of the Fourth Congress. The Left Opposition stands entirely on the basis of the decisions of the first fourth congresses but distinguishes the decisions of principles and program from tactical and episodic decisions. The decision of the Fourth Congress on that question could be only a tactical hypothesis. After that the hypothesis was submitted to a gigantic test. The Left Opposition grew, in a certain sense, from that test. The fault of your group consists precisely in that you ignore the work of the Left Opposition in this fundamental question.

4. The same thing applies to the question of Centrism. You refer to Lenin. But the task does not consist to refer in this or that quotation from Lenin, which is concerned with other times and other conditions, but to use correctly the method of Lenin. In Lenin you do not find, naturally, anything about bureaucratic centrism because the Stalinist fraction was formed politically after the death of Lenin. In the struggle with this fraction the International Left Opposition grew. Also in this question, you ignore its critical activity.

I do not wish to say at all that your group defended in the past the unworthy methods of the Landau group. However, you are in error in thinking that this question is an internal question of the Left Opposition. The Left Opposition does not have and cannot have anything in common with the Landau group as well as with all those who support that group.

May 24, 1932
L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 10.1.2014