Leon Trotsky

A Letter to a Comrade

Left Opposition and the Brandlerites


Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 5 (Whole No. 101), 30 January 1932, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: 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 comrade:

I will try to express my views on the questions raised by you as briefly as possible. From the first, I had considered the disintegration of the Brandlerist faction as something absolutely inevitable. A revolutionary faction which has no doctrine, no general conception of the world situation, no elaborated strategical principles, is doomed, as a cross between Communism and social democracy, to a hand to mouth vegetation and cannot withstand the convulsions of the present epoch. Brandler and Thalheimer, the “leaders” of the international Right wing opposition called us “sectarians”. Now, when we do possess a certain amount of cadres and begin slowly to grow, these alleged representatives of mass action find themselves in the midst of complete disintegration. Half of the leaders want to join Stalin, the other half Seydewitz. When Messrs. Brandler and Thalheimer take the part of yes-men with regard to everything that goes on in the Soviet Union, that does not prove at all, that they are blind by nature or that they have been dazzled by the wisdom of the Stalinists, but much rather, that they do not care a snap what happens in the country of the October revolution. Up to February 15, 1928, Brandler and Thalheimer repeatedly said: The Opposition’s program of industrialization and collectivization is a utopia. Beginning with February 16, they immediately approved the new program of Stalin which was only a caricature of our own. One can more readily understand why it is that the Stalinists, under the immediate pressure of difficulties and contradictions which they are incapable either of overcoming or even of understanding, are engaged in changing their position sharply and in taking refuge behind lies, but it is really repulsive to see these two Berlin peewits constantly saying yes and yes, without taking any part at all in the affair outside of their fervent desire to be appointed to high functions. And the fact that the Right wing opposition tolerates the likes of them in its midst, nay, at its head, is in my eyes very characteristic of that organization.

We, the Left Opposition, are weak. We are growing slowly. But we are patient. The cadres of the Comintern consist either of completely used up, formerly revolutionary, elements or of neutral hirelings. The Marxist tradition has been broken. What is sailing now under the flag of Leninism, is only a mishmash of the most heterogeneous elements, cemented by blunt Stalinist ignorance. The authority of the October revolution has become an obstacle to revolutionary development. That is the dialectic of history: reason becomes nonsense, October revolution becomes Kaganovitch. Under such conditions, how can the Marxist tendency be expected to move forward at express speed? In order to master the international situation, its turns, changes, etc., a certain theoretical level is required, or at least, a certain amount of political experience. The masses can only approve of us, insofar as our views withstand the test of events and are confirmed by them. Example: Our small German organization is making a serious step forward precisely because it is holding its own in this eventful situation, while the Brandlerites are forced into bankruptcy.

Com. St. believes, according to what you say, that there are unreliable, confused and even discrediting Cantonists among us, especially in Austria. It is true, in Austria there exist, to be sure, not four but – insofar as I have been informed – two groups who count themselves as members of the Left Opposition, both of which we are, however, for the time being, allowing to take their course outside of the framework of our organization because just now we lay more weight on quality than on numbers. Numbers only make up the real mass, when the cadres maintain themselves by their quality, that is, by their ideas, and methods. When will the great successes come? That I cannot tell you. The Left Radicals remained a small minority in the German social democracy for years. The Zimmerwald Left consisted of single comrades from various countries, and they were not – as comrade St. very well knows – among the best: a young Norwegian poet, the confused Hoeglund from Sweden, Julius Borchardt, etc. But the doctrine was solid, the orientation firm, the methods correct, that is, appropriate for the epoch. And out of this small group, the Third International arose. To be sure, through the intermediary of the October revolution. Great revolutions always consume whole generations, and that is just the case now. To a certain, but only to a certain degree, it is necessary to begin anew at present. In this, the most important task is to preserve the continuity of the revolutionary-Marxist, that is – in our epoch, of the Bolshevik idea and to transmit it to the younger generation, The confused Cantonists, who “discredit” us will be hurled aside. One should choose one’s path according to the fundamental, determining, objective factors and not according to the subjective impressions of one group or another of followers of the revolutionary tendency. Engels once wrote to Bernstein somewhat along these lines: “We (i.e. Marx and Engels, naturally) remained in the minority all our life and were quite comfortable at that.” I do not mean to say by this, that we should make this our aim. In my life, it also happened that I was among the majority. But all those who constantly rave about the “masses” and the “majority” never actually attain it, at least not for revolutionary ends. The masses are not won over by a special mass technique, as Brandler and Thalheimer conceive of it – in this field, the trade union fakers are sky-high superior to them –, the masses are won over in our epoch, full of events and crises, only by a clear revolutionary, social conception.

The further development of the German situation will, be decisive for the international labor movement, and in the first instance, for the Comintern. Should the German proletariat be victorious – this can only happen by the greatest tension of all the creative forces latent in it – then the dictatorship of the empty and brutal Stalinist bureaucracy will immediately fall, great ideological struggles will be solved, the Left Opposition will have a fructifying effect on the renovation of the labor movement in Germany and in the entire world. Should the German proletariat be defeated by the Fascists, then all will be over with the Comintern and possibly also with the Soviet Union. For the world proletariat, that will mean a set-back for long years to come. Under these tragic conditions, the Left Opposition will take over the task of continuing to expand the Marxist idea, but certainly no longer within the formal framework of the Third International. We have a long run perspective. The events can accelerate our development, even give it a feverish pace. All the better! We are, however, also prepared to carry on propagandistic and educational work for long years as “sectarians”, in order to prepare the yeast for the future.


With best Communist regards,

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Last updated on: 23.3.2013