Leon Trotsky

The Barbusse Congress

(June 1932)

Written: 16 June 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 29 (Whole No. 125), 16 July 1932, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Dear Comrades:

I have before me the June 4 number of the Paris Magazine Monde. Monde is published by Barbusse and serves at the present time as the central organ for the convocation of the “great Anti-War Congress”. On the third page of this magazine there is an extract from an appeal by Romain Holland and Henri Barbusse. The character and spirit of the appeal are sufficiently clear from the following words:

“We call upon all people, all groups, regardless of their political affiliations and all labor organizations – cultural, social and trade union – upon all forces and all mass organizations! Let all join us in the International Congress of War against War.”

Then follows a passage from a letter addressed by Rolland to Barbusse: “I am wholly of the opinion that the Congress should be open to all parties and non-partisans on a common basis of sincere and determined struggle against war.” Further on, Rolland expresses his agreement with Barbusse, that the first place in this struggle should be occupied by the working class. Still further, we read the first list of those who have joined the Congress. It consists of radical and half-radical French and German writers, pacifists, members of the League of the Rights of Man, and so forth.

This is followed by an aphorism from the well-known Emile Vandervelde.

“Everywhere war gives birth to ... explosions of revolutionary dissatisfaction on the one hand and the rabid reaction of fanatical nationalism on the other. It is of the utmost necessity that the Internationals unite their forces closely in order to prevent war.”

Finally, after these words by Vandervelde, quoted from the socialist journal Le Peuple of May 29, 1932, we read a quotation from the central organ of the French Communist party, l’Humanité, of May 31, 1982: “Reply ‘Present!’ to the call of Romain Rolland and Henri Barbusse for participation in the International Congress at Geneva.”

In the last issue of La Vie Ouvriere, the central organ of the Unitary General Confederation of Labor, there is an article in which complete agreement is expressed with the initiative taken by Rolland and Barbusse.

The picture is now perfectly clear. The French Communist Party and the trade union organization led by it, stand behind the initiators of the Congress. Behind French Communism stands the leadership of the Comintern. What is involved is the danger of a new world war. In the struggle against this danger it is necessary to utilize also the fellow-travellers, who appear or may appear to be, to a certain extent, the most honest and determined in the ranks of the petty bourgeois pacifists. However, this is in any case a question of tertiary or still lesser importance. The initiative in this matter, it would seem, should be taken before the eyes of the international proletariat, by the Comintern and Profintern. The most important problem is the successful attraction to our side of the working masses of the Second and the Amsterdam Internationals. As a means to this end the policy of the united front can be of great service. The last session of the Executive Committee of the Second International pronounced itself against Japan and “for the defense of the U.S.S.R.” We know the weight and the value of this defense inasmuch as the decision of the leaders is concerned. But the very fact of the adoption of this decision is an indication of the force of the mass pressure (the crisis and the danger of war). The Comintern was duty bound in these circumstances to develop the policy of the united front on an international scale, i.e., to propose to the Second and the Amsterdam Internationals openly before the world proletariat a definite, carefully weighed program of practical measures against the danger of war.

But the Cominten is silent. The Profintern is silent. The initiative is surrendered to two pacifist writers, one of whom – Romain Rolland – is undoubtedly a great writer and a prominent person, but a man who is not engaged in politics, and the other – Barbusse – is a pacifist and a mystic, a Communist or one expelled from the Communist party, but at any rate an advocate of the complete fusion of the Communist parties with the social democracy. “Join us”, say Rolland and Barbusse. Answer “Present!”, l’Humanité joins in the refrain. Is it possible to imagine anything more monstrous, more capitulatory and more criminal than this crawling of official Communism before petty bourgeois pacifism?

In Germany, it is declared impermissible to apply the tactics of a united front to the mass organizations of the workers, with the aim of exposing the reformist leaders. At the same time, a united front on an international scale is being applied, of which the first steps are turned into a boosting campaign for the worst of the gallery of reformist traitors. Vandervelde is surely “for peace”. He reckons that it is more advantageous and convenient to serve in the ministry of his king in time of peace than in time of war. And thus, the impudent aphorisms of this social patriot, whose signature, if I am not mistaken, appears on the Versailles Peace Treaty, are made into a program of the huge anti-War Congress. And l’Humanité gives its support to this treacherous and pernicious masquerade.

In Germany, it is a question of warding off the Fascist counter-revolutionary pogrom, which immediately and directly threatens not only the working class but its reformist organizations and even its reformist leaders. To the social democratic gentlemen, it is a question of salaries, of state privileges and even of their own hides. One must be in a state of complete bureaucratic idiocy to refuse to utilize correctly and systematically the great, sharp contradictions between Fascism and the social democracy in the interests of the proletarian revolution.

In the question of war, however, it is an entirely different matter. War does not at all constitute a direct threat to the reformist organizations, particularly to their leaders. On the contrary, experience has shown that war opens up dizzying careers for the reformist leaders. Patriotism is just that ideology which most closely ties the social democracy to its national bourgeoisie. If it is possible, even inevitable, that the social democracy will be forced in some form or other, within certain bounds, to defend itself against Fascism, when the latter will seize it by the throat (and it will seize it), the possibility that the social democracy of any country should conduct a struggle against its bourgeoisie in the case of a war declaration, be it even against the Soviet Union, is entirely excluded. The revolutionary campaign against war has as its particular and specific aim the exposure of the deceit and the putrefaction of social democratic pacifism.

But what does the Comintern do? It prohibits the utilization of the absolutely real and deep antagonism between the national social democracy and nationa Fascism, while it attempts to grab hold of the illusory, hypocritical antagonism between the international social democracy and its imperialistic master.

If in Germany the united front is altogether prohibited, on the international scale the united front is from the very beginning given a decorative, masquerading, deliberately deceptive and rotten character. Exploiting the idealistic naiveté of the absolutely sincere Romain Rolland, all fakers and dirty careerists, retired social democratic ministers and candidates for the ministry will declare “Present!” For this gentry the Congress will serve as a sanatarium where they will improve their somewhat besmirched reputations in order to sell themselves at a higher price. This was the manner in which the participants in the Anti-Imperialist League acted. We are faced with a repetition of a Kuo Min Tang and an Anglo-Russian Committee on a world scale.

There are pedants who doubt if we are correct in defining the international Stalinist faction as Centrism. Those who have been poisoned by ill-digested texts, are incapable of learning from living facts. Here you have ideal, classic, universalist Centrism in full bloom: its nose turned to the Right, its tail still strongly inclined towards the Left. Draw a line uniting its nose with its tail and you will find the orbit of Centrism.

History is at a breaking point. The whole world is at a breaking point today. And so is Centrism. In the U.S.S.R. the Stalinists still continue to prattle about the abolition of classes in five years and at the same time they are restoring the free market. The ultra-Left tail does not yet know that the wise opportunist head has decided. In the domain of cultural policy in the U.S.S.R. a sharp turn has been made to the Right. The mute turn, to be sure, without any commentary, but a so much the more threatening one. The same has taken place in the policies of the Comintern. While the luckless Piatnitzkys are still showing the remnants of the ultra-Leftist cud, the Manuilskys have already been ordered to turn their heads to the Right without regard for their spinal vertebrae. Never as yet in the nine years of its practise has the epigone school revealed its unprincipledness, its ideological shallowness and its practical knavery in so naked and shameless a manner us this.

Bolshevik-Leninists! The symptoms of a great historical turn are accumulating in the world atmosphere This turn is bound to have its effects on the destiny of our faction. Already we are charged with tasks of truly great historical significance. The struggle against war means above all a struggle against pacifist masquerading and Centrist bureaucratic quackery. It is necessary to launch a pitiless campaign to expose the contradictions of the Stalinist apparatus, whose bankruptcy in the impending great events is inevitable.

The defense of the U.S.S.R. is not a parlor phrase with which the not always disinterested friends of the Stalinist bureaucracy parade The international defense of the U.S.S.R. is becoming increasingly more dependent upon the international revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. Where the blood and fate of millions are at stake, the greatest clarity is needed. Nobody today is rendering better service to the class enemy than the Stalinist apparatus which in the struggle for the remnants of its prestige, is sowing confusion and chaos everywhere.

Bolshevik-Leninists! You will be charged with an enormous task. Weeks and months are approaching when every revolutionist will have to show what he is worth. Carry the ideas of Marxism and Leninism into the ranks of the advanced workers. Help the international proletarian vanguard extricate itself from the strait jacket of the Stalinist bureaucracy which has lost its head. What is involved is no small matter: It is the fate of the U.S.S.R. and the world proletarian revolution.

June 13, 1932

Leon Trotsky

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