Leon Trotsky

The Only Road

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

(September 1932)

Written: 12 September 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 46, 12 November 1932, p. 6.
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.

CAN IT BE expected that the Central Committee of the Communist party will independently accomplish a turn to the right road? Its whole past demonstrates that it is incapable of doing this Hardly had it begun to rectify itself than the apparatus saw itself before the perspective of “Trotskyism”. If Thälmann himself did not grasp it immediately, then he was told from Moscow that the “part” must be sacrificed for the sake of the “whole”, that is, the interests of the German revolution for the sake of the interests of the Stalinist apparatus. The abashed attempts to revise the policy were once more withdrawn. The bureaucratic reaction again triumphed all along the line.

It is not, of course, a matter of Thälmann. Were the present-day Comintern to give its sections the possibility of living, of thinking and of developing themselves they would long ago, in the last fifteen years, have been able to select their own leading cadres. But the bureaucracy erected instead a system of appointed leaders and their support by means of artificial ballyhoo. Thalmann is a product of this system and at the same time its victim.

The cadres, paralyzed in their development, weaken the party. Their inadequacy they supplement with repressions. The oscillations and the uncertainty of the party are inexorably transmitted to the class as a whole. The masses cannot be summoned to bold actions when the party itself is robbed of revolutionary determination.

Even if Thälmann were to receive tomorrow a telegram from Manuilsky on the necessity of a turn to the path of the united front policy, the new zig-zag at the top would bring little good. The leadership is too compromised. A correct policy demands a healthy regime. Party democracy, at present a plaything of the bureaucracy, must rise again as a reality. The party must become a party, then the masses will believe it. Practically, this means to put upon the order of the day: an extraordinary party convention and an extraordinary congress of the Comintern.

The party convention must naturally be preceded by an all-sided discussion. All apparatus barriers must be razed. Every party organization, every nucleus has the right to call to its meetings and listen to every Communist, member of the party or one expelled from it, if it considers this necessary for the working out of its opinion. The press must be put at the service of the discussion; adequate space must be allotted daily for critical articles in every party paper. Special press commissions, elected at mass meetings of the party members, must supervise that the papers serve the party and not the bureaucracy.

The discussion, it is true, will require no little time and energy. The apparatus will argue: how can the party permit itself the “luxury of discussion” at such a critical period? The bureaucratic saviors believe that under difficult conditions the party must shut up. The Marxists, on the contrary, believe that the more difficult the situation, the more important the independent role of the party.

The leadership of the Bolshevik party enjoyed, in 1917, a very great esteem. And notwithstanding this, a series of deep-going party discussions took place throughout the year 1917. On the eve of the October overturn, the whole party debated passionately which of the two sections of the Central Committee was right: the majority, which was for the uprising, or the minority, which was against the uprising. Expulsions and repressions in general, were nowhere to be seen, in spite of the profundity of the differences of opinion. Into these discussions were drawn the non-party masses. In Petrograd, a meeting of non-party working women dispatched a delegation to the Central Committee in order to support the majority in it. To be sure, the discussion required time. But in return for that, there grew out of the open discussion, without threats, lies and falsifications, the general, indomitable certainty of the correctness of the policy, that is, that which alone makes possible the victory.

What course will things take in Germany? Will the small wheel of the Opposition succeed in turning the large party wheel in time? That is how the question stands now. Pessimistic voices are often raised. In the various Communist groupings, in the party itself, as well as its periphery, there are not a few elements who say to themselves: in every important question the Left Opposition has a correct stand. But it is weak. Its cadres are small in number and politically inexperienced. Can such an organization, with a small weekly paper (Die Permanente Revolution) successfully counterpose itself to the mighty Comintern machine?

The lessons of events are stronger than the Stalinist bureaucracy. We want to be the interpreters of these lessons to the Communist masses. Therein lies our historic role as a faction. We do not demand, as do Seydewitz and Co., that the revolutionary proletariat should believe us on credit. We allot ourselves a more modest role: we propose our assistance to the Communist vanguard in the elaboration of the correct line. For this work we are gathering and training up our own cadres. This stage of preparation may not be jumped over. Every new stage of struggle will push to our side those in the proletariat who reflect the most and are most critical.

The revolutionary party begins with an idea, a program, which is aimed at the most powerful apparatus of class society. It is not the cadre that creates the idea, but the idea that creates the cadre. Fear of the power of the apparatus is one of the most conspicuous features of that specific opportunism which the Stalinist bureaucracy cultivates. Marxian criticism is stronger than any and every apparatus.

The organizational forms which the further evolution of the Left Opposition will assume, depend upon many circumstances: the momentum of the historical blows, the degree of resistance power of the Stalin bureaucracy, the activity of the rank and file Communists, the energy of the Opposition itself. But the principles and methods we fight for have been tested by the greatest events in world history, by the victories as well as by the defeats. They will make their way.

The successes of the Opposition in every country, Germany included, are indisputable and manifest. But they are developing slower than many of us expected. We may regret this, but we need not be surprised at it. Every Communist who begins to listen to the Left Opposition is cynically given the choice by the bureaucracy: either go along with the baiting of “Trotskyism” or else be kicked out of the ranks of the Comintern. For the party official, it is a question of position and wages: the Stalinist apparatus plays this key to perfection. But immeasurably more important are the thousands of rank and file Communists who are torn between their devotion to the ideas of Communism and the threatened expulsion from the ranks of the Comintern. That is why there are in the ranks of the official Communist party a great number of partial, intimidated or concealed Oppositionists.

This extraordinary combination of historical conditions sufficiently explains the slow organizational growth of the Left Opposition. At the same time, in spite of this slowness, the spiritual life of the Comintern revolves, today more than ever before, around the struggle against “Trotskyism”. The theoretical periodicals and theoretical newspaper articles of the C.P.S.U., as well as the other sections of the Comintern, are chiefly devoted to the struggle against the Left Opposition, now openly, now maskedly. Still more symptomatic in significance is that mad organizational baiting which the apparatus pursues against the Opposition: disruption of its meetings by blackjack methods; employment of all sorts of other physical violence: behind-the-scene agreements with bourgeois pacifists, French Radicals and Freemasons against the “Trotskyists”; the dissemination of envenomed calumnies from the Stalinist center, etc., etc.

The Stalinists perceive much more directly and know better than the Oppositionists to what extent our ideas are undermining their apparatus pillars. The self-defense methods of the Stalinist faction, however, have a double-edged character. Up to a certain moment, they have an intimidating effect. But at the same time they prepare a mass reaction against the system of falsity and violence.

When, in July 1917, the government of the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionists branded the Bolsheviks as agents of the German General Staff, this despicable measure succeeded at first in exercizing a strong influence upon the soldiers, the peasants and the backward strata of the workers. But when all the further events clearly confirmed the truth of the Bolsheviks, the masses began to say to themselves: so they deliberately slandered the Leninists, they basely incited against them, only because they were right? And the feeling of suspicion against the Bolsheviks was converted into a feeling of warm devotion and love for them. Although under different conditions, this very complex process is taking place now too. By means of a monstrous accumulation of calumnies and repressions, the Stalinist bureaucracy has undeniably succeeded for a period of time in intimidating the rank and file party members; at the same time, it is preparing for the Bolshevik-Leninists an enormous rehabilitation in the eyes of the revolutionary masses. At the present time, there can no longer be the slightest doubt on this score.

Yes, we are today still weak. The Communist party still has masses, but already it has neither doctrine nor strategic orientation. The Left Opposition has already worked out its Marxian orientation, but as yet it has no masses. The remaining groups of the “Left” camp possess neither the one nor the other. Hopelessly does the Leninbund pine away, thinking to substitute the individual fantasies and whims of Urbahns for a serious principled policy. The Brandlerists, in spite of their apparatus cadre, are descending step by step; small tactical recipes cannot replace a revolutionary-strategical position. The S.A.P. has put up its candidacy for the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat. Baseless pretension! Even the most serious representatives of this “party” do not overstep, as Fritz Sternberg’s latest book shows, the barriers of Left-Centrism. The more assiduously they seek to create an “independent” doctrine, the more they reveal themselves to be disciples of Thalheimer. But this school is as hopeless as a corpse.

A new historical party cannot arise simply because a number of old social democrats have convinced themselves, very belatedly, of the counter-revolutionary character of the Ebert-Wels policy. A new party can just as little be improvized by a group of Communists who have as yet done nothing to warrant their claim to proletarian leadership. For a new party to arise, it is on the one hand necessary to have great historical events, which would break the backbone of the old parties, and on the other hand, a position in principle worked out, and cadres tested, in the experience of events.

While we are fighting with all our strength for the rebirth of the Comintern and the continuity of its further developments, we are least of all inclined to any fetishism of form. The fate of the proletarian world revolution stands, for us, above the organizational fate of the Comintern. Should the worst variant materialize; should the present official parties, despite all our efforts, be led to a collapse by the Stalinist bureaucracy; should it mean in a certain sense to begin all over again, then the new International will trace its genealogy from the ideas and cadres of the Communist Left Opposition.

And that is why the short criteria of “pessimism” and “optimism” are not applicable to the work which we are carrying through. It stands above the separate stages, the partial defeats and victories. Our policy is a policy of long range.

PRINKIPO, September 12, 1932


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