Leon Trotsky

What They Say in Prague
About the United Front

From the Series of Articles in the Forthcoming Book The Only Road

(September 1932)

Written: 2 September 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 44, 29 October 1932, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

(Continued from last issue)

The united front on the international scale, as we have said above, contains the greatest difficulties and dangers, for there the formulation of the practical tasks and the organization of mass control is harder. That is how matters stand above all in the question of the struggle against war. The prospects of joint actions are far slighter here, the possibilities of subterfuge and deception by the reformists and pacifists are far greater. By this, of course, we do not contend that the united front in this field) is out of the question. On the contrary, we demanded that the Comintern should turn directly and immediately to the Second and the Amsterdam Internationals with the proposal for a joint anti-war congress. It would then have been the task of the Comintern to work out the most concrete possible obligations, applicable to the various countries and differing circumstances. Were the social democracy compelled to agree to such a congress, the problem of war, providing there were a correct policy on our side, could be driven into its ranks like a sharp wedge.

The first premise for this: utmost clarity, political as well as organizational. There is involved an agreement of proletarian, million-membered organizations, which are today still divided by deep antagonisms in principle. Aio ambiguous intermediaries, no diplomatic masqueradings and hollow pacifist formula!

The Comintern, however, found it proper this time also to act counter to the ABC of Marxism: while it refused to enter into open negotiations with the reformist Internationals, it opened up negotiations behind the scenes with Friedrich Adler through the medium ... of the pacifist literary gentleman and first class muddlehead, Henri Barbusse. As a result of this policy, Barbusse gathered together in Amsterdam half-masked Communist or “related”, “sympathizing” organizations and groups, together with the pacifist free lancers of all countries. The most honest and sincere among the latter – and they are the minority – can each say for himself: “I and my confusion.” Who needed this masquerade, this bazaar of intellectualistic conceit, this Münzenbergerie, which converges into downright political charlatanry? [1]

But let us return to Prague. Five months after the appearance of the article discussed above, the same journal printed the article of one of the party leaders, Kl. Gottwald, which bears the character of an appeal to the Czechoslovakian workers of the different tendencies to make fighting agreements. The Fascist danger menaces all of Central Europe: the onslaught of the reaction can be beaten off only by the unity of the proletariat; no time should be lost, it is already “five minutes to twelve”. The appeal is very passionately written. In vain, however, does Gottwald swear, following Seydewitz and Thalmann, that he is not pursuing the interests of the party but the interests of the class: such a contrast is absolutely improper in the mouth of a Marxist. Gottwald stigmatizes the sabotage of the social democratic leaders. It is needless to say that the truth here is entirely on his side. Unfortunately, the author says nothing direct about the policy of the Central Committee of the German Communist Party: evidently he is not resolved upon defending it, but does not yet dare to criticize it. Gottwald himself, nevertheless, goes into the grievous question, not resolutely, it is true, but still fairly correctly. After he has called upon the workers of the various tendencies to come to an agreement in the factories, Gottwald writes: “Many of you may perhaps say: Unite there ‘at the top’, we ‘below’ will get together pretty easily.” We believe, continues the author, “that the most important thing is for the workers to agree ‘below’. And as for the leaders: we have already said that we combine even with the devil if only it is directed against the rulers and in the interests of the workers. And we say to you openly: if your leaders give up their alliance with the bourgeoisie for even a single instant, proceed in reality against the rulers even in one question – we will greet it and support them in it.”

Almost everything necessary is said here, and almost the way it should be said. Gottwald did not even forget to mention the devil, whose name the editorial board of Rude Pravo printed five months before in pious indignation. Gottwald did indeed omit the devil’s grandmother. But God be with her: for the sake of the united front we are ready to sacrifice her. Perhaps Gottwald would be prepared, for his part to console the offended old dame by turning over to her disposal the article from Rude Pravo of February 27, together with the inkwell – “worker correspondent”.

Gottwald’s political considerations, let us hope, are applicable not only to Czechoslovakia but also to Germany. And that’s just how it should have been said. On the other hand, neither in Berlin nor in Prague can the party leadership confine itself to the bald declaration of its readiness for a united front with the social democracy, but must demonstrate this readiness in deeds, enterprisingly, in a Bolshevik manner, by means of quite definite practical proposals and actions. That is just what we demand.

Gottwald’s article, thanks to the fact that it rings with a realistic and not an ultimatist tone, instantly found an echo among the social democratic workers: On July 31 there appeared in Rude Pravo a letter, among others, from an unemployed printer who had recently returned from a visit to Germany. The letter bears the imprint of a worker-democrat who is undoubtedly afflicted with the prejudices of reformism. All the more important is it to pay attention to how the policy of the German Communist Party reflects itself in his consciousness.

“When in the spring of last year,” thus writes the printer, “comrade Breitscheid directed to the Communist party the appeal to begin joint actions with the social democracy, he evoked in the Rote Fahne a veritable storm of indignation. So the social democratic workers said to themselves: ‘Now we know how serious are the intentions of the Communists on the united front’.”

Here you have the genuine voice of a worker. Such a voice contributes more to the solution of the question than dozens of articles by unprincipled pen-pushers. As a matter of fact, Breitscheid didn’t propose any united front. He only frightened the bourgeoisie with the possibility of joint actions with the Communists ... Had the Central Committee of the Communist party promptly put the question right on the edge of the knife, the social democratic party leadership would have been pushed into a difficult position. But the Central Committee of the Communist party hastened, as always, to put itself into a difficult position.

In the brochure What Next?, I happened to write on Breitscheid’s speech:

“Isn’t it self-evident that Breitscheid’s diplomatic and equivocal offer should have been grabbed with both hands; and that from one’s own side, one should have submitted a concrete, carefully detailed and practical program for a joint struggle against Fascism; and have demanded joint sessions of the executives of both parties, with the participation of the executives of the independent trade unions? Simultaneously, one should have carried energetically this same program down through all the layers of both parties and of the masses.” (Page 56)

By spurning the trial balloon of the reformist leaders, the Central Committee of the Communist party transformed in the minds of the workers the ambiguous assertion of Breitscheid into a direct united front proposal and prompted the social democratic workers to the conclusion: “Our people want joint actions, but the Communists are sabotaging.” Can you imagine a more inappropriate and stupider policy ? Could Breitscheid’s manoeuver be better supported? The letter from the Prague printer demonstrates with remarkable plainness that, with Thälmann’s aid, Breitscheid completely attained his goal.

Rude Pravo endeavors to perceive contradiction and confusion in the fact that in one case we reject an agreement, but in another, we acknowledge it and deem it necessary to determine anew each time the scope, the slogans and the methods of the agreement. Rude Pravo does not understand that in politics, as in all other serious fields, one must know well: what, when, where and how. Also it cannot hurt to understand why.

In our Criticism of the Program of the Comintern four years ago, we set down a few elementary rules for the united front policy. We consider it worth while to recall them here:

“The possibility of betrayal is always imbedded in reformism. That does not mean, of course, that reformism and betrayal are one and the same thing at every moment. Temporary agreements may be made with the reformists, if they take a step forward. But to maintain a bloc with them when they commit treason shortly before the development of a movement, signifies a criminal carelessness towards the. traitors and a veiling of betrayal.” (The Strategy of the World Revolution, page 51)

“The most important, best established and most unalterable rule of every manoeuver says: One’s own party organization should never be diluted, united or combined with another; no matter how ‘friendly’ the latter may still be today. Such a step should never be undertaken which leads, directly or indirectly, openly or maskedly, to the subordination the party to other parties or to organizations of other classes and therewith limits the freedom of one’s own agitation, or a step through which one is made responsible, even if only in part, for the political line of other parties. You shall not mix up the banners, not to speak of kneeling before another banner.” (Ibid., pp. 60–61)

Today, after the experience with the Barbusse Congress, we would add still another rule:

“Agreements should be reached only openly, before the eyes of the masses, from party to party, from organization to organization. You shall not avail yourself of equivocal middlemen. You shall not palm off diplomatic affairs with bourgeois pacifists as a proletarian united front.”

PRINKIPO, September 2, 1932



1. The fact that the Brandlerites (see their Stuttgart Tribune of August 27, carefully separated itself from us in this question too, and supported the masquerade of Stalin, Manuilsky, Losovsky, Muenzenberg, surprises us least of all. After supplying the model of their united front policy in Saxony in 1923, Brandler-Thalheimer thereupon supported the Stalinist policy towards the Kuo Min Tang and the Anglo-Russian Committee. How can they deprive themselves of the opportunity to enlist under Barbusse’s banner? If they didn’t their political physiognomy would not be rounded out.

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Last updated on: 8 December 2014