Leon Trotsky

The Passage of Trotsky
to Anvers

Open Letter to Vandervelde

(December 1932)

Written: December 5, 1932.
Source: Class Struggle, Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Vol. 3 No. 1, January 1933.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 1, 7 January 1933, pp. 1 & 4. (different translation)
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.

Citizen Vandervelde:

Several years ago you addressed to me an open letter concerning, if I am not mistaken, the repression against the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. Generally and invariably you have lined yourself up against the Bolsheviks, in the name of democracy. It is your right. If your criticism did not achieve the aim followed, it is because we, Bolsheviks, proceed from the principles of the proletarian dictatorship.

The Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries, your co-religionists in democracy, opened against us, at the time, a terrorist struggle. They wounded Lenin and tried to cause the derailment of my military train. Brought before the Soviet Tribunal they found in you one of their most enraged defenders. The government to which I belonged authorized you, not only to come to Soviet Russia but to set yourself up before the Tribunal as the lawyer of those who had tried to kill the head of the first workers’ State. In your pleading which we reproduced in our press, you appealed invariably to the principles of democracy. It was your right.

On December 4, 1932, I found myself with my companions, en route to the port of Anvers. [1] I was proposing neither to propagate the dictatorship of the proletariat nor to set myself up as defender of the Communists and of the strikers arrested by the Belgian government, who as much as I know, had not committed any attempt against the members of the government of Brussels. Some of my companions, and my wife with them, wished to visit Anvers. One of them needed, for his trip, to see the consulate of the city. They categorically [refused] to all[ow him] to touch the soil of Belgium even under guard. The part of the port where our boat was, was carefully encircled. On one side and on the other of the boat were horse sentries of the police. From the bridge, we could pass in review the policemen of the democracy, military as well as civil. It was an imposing spectacle. The number of cops and dicks – you will permit this familiar designation for conciseness – exceeded the number of sailors and dockmen. The boat resembled a provisional prison. The part nearest the port to the court of the prison. The chief of police took copies of our papers although we were not going to Belgium and we had not been authorized to put up at Anvers. He demanded an explanation why my passport is in the name of Sedoff. I refused all discussion with the Belgian police with whom I have nothing to do.

The police officer tried to act threateningly. He declared he had the right to arrest all those whom the chance of a boat journey led into the Belgian waters. I must, besides, recognize that there was no arrest.

I ask you not to find in my words any complaint. It would be ridiculous to complain for such a bagatelle in the face of all that the working masses and in particular the Communists are forced actually to submit throughout the world. But the episode at Anvers seems to me a sufficient excuse to return to your open letter to which I had not responded at the time.

I hope I am not mistaken in putting Belgium in the number of democracies. The war that you led was – is it not so? – the war for democracy. After the war you were at the head of Belgium as minister and even as premier. What is more necessary to lead democracy to its full efflorescence? Upon that, I believe, there is no discussion between us. Why then, nevertheless, can this democracy have so much of the police spirit of old Prussia? And can one believe that the democracy which experiences such a nervous shock at the occasional approach of a Bolshevik show itself capable to neutralize the class struggle and to assure the peaceful transformation of capitalism to socialism?

In reply you will recall to me no doubt the Tcheka, the GPU, the deportation of Rakovsky and my own expulsion from the Soviet Union. This argument is false. The Soviet regime does not adorn itself with the peacock feathers of democracy. If the passage to socialism was possible in the state forms created by liberalism the revolutionary dictatorship would not be necessary. For the Soviet regime one can and one should pose the question to know whether he is capable of teaching the workers the struggle against capitalism. But it is absurd to demand that the proletarian dictatorship observe the forms and the rites of liberal democracy. The dictatorship has its quite severe methods and its logic. The blows of this logic often enough reach the proletarian revolutionists who participated in the foundation of the regime of dictatorship. Yes, in the development of an isolated workers state, betrayed by the international Social-Democracy, the bureaucratic apparatus has acquired a power dangerous for the Socialist revolution. No one need remind this to me. But in face of the class enemy I take full responsibility not only for the revolution of October which engendered the dictatorship but also for the Soviet Republic, such as it is today, with its government which has exiled me abroad and deprived me of my rights of Soviet citizenship.

We have destroyed democracy in order to master capitalism. You defend capitalism so-called in the name of democracy. But where does this democracy hang out?

Not in the port of Anvers in any case. There were cops and dicks and gendarmes armed with rifles. But one could not find the shadow of the right of democratic asylum.

In spite of all I left the waters of Anvers without the least pessimism. During the noon-day pause, there gathered on the bridge some dockmen who had come out of the holds and to the port. There were 20 or 30 of these strong and calm Flemish proletarians, blackened, for the most part, with coal dust. A cordon of police separated them from us. The dockers contemplated in silence the picture in gauging with their looks each one present. There is one solid docker in a cap who winks in the direction of the police. Our bridge responds by smiles. A movement stirs the workers. They have recognized their own, as the Russians say. I am far from saying that the dockers of Anvers are Bolsheviks. But by a direct instinct they are placed to us. In returning to work they smiled in a friendly fashion and many of them put their fingers to their caps as a sign of salute. There is our democracy, to us.

When the boat descended the Escaut, in the hazy twilight, the length of the quais, with their cranes paralyzed by the crisis, resounded from the port with the farewell cries of our unknown but faithful friends.

In closing these lines between Anvers and Vlissingen [2] I send to the workers of Belgium a fraternal greeting.

December 5, 1932

L. Trotsky

Notes by TIA

1. Anvers is better known in the English-speaking world as Antwerp.

2. Vlissingen is often known in the English-speaking world as Flushing.

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Last updated on: 6 February 2015