Leon Trotsky

Two Articles on Those
Who Have Forgotten the ABCs


Written: 1932/1933.
First Published: 1933.
Source: Class Struggle Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Volume 3 Numbers 3 & 4, March-April 1933.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.

The protest of some German comrades against the article, With Both Hands, may be interpreted in two different ways: First, as an attempt to find a suitable pretext for capitulation: Second, as errors of principle on the part of honest oppositionists, who have fallen into confusion. I set aside the first alternative, as being without theoretical interest. The second deserves to be investigated.

The article With Both Hands, warns that Stalin’s policy in the most important questions has approached such decisions that can take on an unalterable character. The article recalls that the Stalin fraction has solidarized itself with the Kellogg pact, and the American disarmament plan. As to the correctness of this extremely important action, there never were any differencss of opinion among us. The article quotes Stalin’s scandalous conversation with Campbell, which very glaringly lights up the road Stalin has entered upon.

“But do you really think that Stalin is capable of treachery?” chimes in an objection. An astonishing argument, which proves that many comrades in spite of their youth, have got to the point of forgetting the Marxian ABC. Do we then judge of a policy as depending upon a predetermined trust or mistrust of this or that person? The political line emerges through the pressure of the class struggle and the objective circumstances and develops its own logic.

In the year 1922 the Soviet Republic went through a severe economic crisis. On the November Plenum of the Central Committee, Stalin and others brought in a solution for the abolition in substance of the foreign trade monopoly. How shall we characterize such a resolution? As a betrayal or not? Subjectively certainly Stalin did not wish to betray the Socialist future. But the abolition of the monopoly is not in any way different in its inevitable consequences from the abolition of the nationalization of the means of production. Not for nothing did the whole capitalist world exert itself in the first year of the Soviet regime for the “moderation” of the foreign trade monopoly. Objectively the resolution of November 1922 was an act of betrayal of Socialism. Subjectively the result was that Stalin and others did not oppose a sufficient theoretical and political resistance to the pressure of the economic crisis.

The historical example of the foreign trade monopoly best illustrates the disputed questions of today. We have so far been able to observe Stalin’s policy in a whole course of important historical stages. How shall we characterize his polices in China – i.e. his alliance with Chiang Kai Shek against the proletariat? We have always characterized them as treacherous. In this case the right zig-zag of bureaucratic centrism was carried to its last logical inference. Can any oppositionist deny that Stalin’s policy in China served the bourgeoisie – against the proletariat? Let us remember in this connection that Stalin carried out this policy through the crushing of those Russian Bolsheviks who wanted to help the Chinese proletariat against the bourgeoisie. What is this if not betrayal?

Since November, 1922, more than ten years have passed. The situation of the USSR has entered upon a period of extremely sharp crisis. In the world situation too, there are many dangers which can increase simultaneously with the further sharpening of the inner difficulties. The criminal policy of the complete collectivization and the adventurous tempo of industrialization has finally got into a blind alley. If we remain within the framework of bureaucratic centrism, there is no way out. The only possibility is a search for palliatives, and delays. Foreign credits could no doubt bring about a moderation of the inner crisis. America says she is not ready to renounce the war debts without “equivalents”. Equivalents are also required for new credits. The program of her demands is well enough known to us from the past. Recognition of the debts of the war and before the war, “moderation” of the foreign trade monopoly, a real break with the Communist International, support of the American policy in the Far East, etc.

Certain concessions in regard to the debts are perfectly admissible. But just this equivalent interests the United States the least. But how do matters stand with the Comintern? It is already five years since a Congress has been called. Is that just an accident? One of Stalin’s motives is doubtless the thought, there is no use in irritating Hoover. The international proletarian vanguard will manage to get along without a congress. Then what is left of the Comintern in Moscow? Pitiable Plenums under the leadership of Manuilsky, whose worth Stalin very well knows. Would it be difficult to give up these “remains”?

The monopoly of foreign trade places more obstacles as “equivalent”. But here also it cannot be a question of any absolute guarantees whatsoever. If ten years ago, when the Soviet industry was in a condition of complete ruin, Stalin approached the greatest concessions to foreign capital on this question. Now a surrender of the position on which industry has considerably grown, must be all the more shunned. “We are so strong, the apparatus will tell the workers, that we can permit a moderation of the foreign trade monopoly.” The capitulatory weakness in relation to world capital, in this as in many other cases will hide under the appearance of strength. Upon what are the objections of these mistaken comrades really founded? In the belief in Stalin’s good intentions. Only on that and nothing more. In any event, they think or say, “Stalin has so far not betrayed the Soviet Republic.” What remarkable profundity! First, we answer, one of the lies in the energetic actions of the Opposition, which never exuded soulful confidence, but on the contrary, aroused the workers at each critical moment to determined alertness. Secondly, Stalin’s policy in China has in any event had full fling and has led the second Chinese revolution to a complete collapse.

Here the objectors, hopelessly in error, take up a new position. “These are all your suppositions”, they will say, “You cannot prove them.” This is correct: In order to prove them, one must await the results – i.e. the collapse of the Soviet fatherland as the result of the completed policy of bureaucratic centrism.

Were the Apparatus under the control of the Party, were the workers to discuss questions of policy and were they able to control their executive organs, we would have serious guarantees of the responsible carrying out of policy. But just this is lacking. Nobody outside of the narrow and ever narrowing circle around Stalin knows what means for solving the crisis will be prepared. Can one seriously rely on that revolutionist, who in such a situation, where mighty historical factors are at work, bases his perspective upon psychological conjectures or upon moral estimations? When Ustrjalow expressed the hope, that the NEP would lead the Bolshevik party to a capitalist regime, Lenin said, “Such things of which Ustrjalow speaks, are possible.” History knows such revolutions of all sorts; to rely upon persuasion, devotion and similar signally mental qualities, is a quite frivolous thing in politics.” Lenin said this about the party in the year, 1922. What can be said today?

Many of the objectors want to conjure up the ghost of Urbahns in connection with our article, according to them we have approached his estimation of Stalinism. It is really painful to have to analyze such an argument at the end of December, 1932. Between Urbahns and us, was carried on the struggle on the nature of the Soviet state. Urbahns could not understand and until today has not understood that the Centrist policy based as it is on the foundation of the proletarian state does not yet in anyway alter automatically the character of the state. It all depends upon the degree, upon the relation of forces in the struggle, upon the stage, which the development of contradictions has reached, etc. Bureaucratic centrism weakens the proletarian dictatorship, hinders its development, undermines its bony structure of the proletariat like a sickness. Only, sickness does not mean death. One can be cured of a sickness. But Urbahns declared the dictatorship liquidated, while we fight for the restoration and strengthening of the dictatorship, still living, still enduring, although deeply undermined by Stalinist centrism.

But what can we say of those unfortunate oppositionists, who base the fact of the endurance of the proletarian dictatorship upon the necessity of trust in bureaucratic centrism, which has undermined this dictatorship? What can be said of such “physicians”, who suddenly make the discovery that it would be best for the welfare of the patient to overlook the symptoms of his disease, to color up the situation, and instead of a systematic treatment to content themselves with the hope that the patient, with God’s help, will get better by himself?

Our objectors reveal just such a deep lack of understanding of the vital relations between the Soviet State and bureaucratic Centrism as Urbahns. Only they cover their lack of understanding with a different color.

Only the terribly low level upon which the Stalin bureaucracy keeps the Communist movement, can explain the highly grievous fact that comrades, who have been learning for several years in the school of the opposition, can fall into such pitiable and compromising errors. There is nothing to be done! We will lose a little time with the repetition of the ABC; if it does not help, we will step over the stiff-necked lagging ones and go forward.

Prinkipo, 28 December 1932


Serious Lessons From an Inconsequential Thing

It would be substantially incorrect to pass by the Well case in silence, and merely refer to the fact that a dozen lazy fellows have gone astray and have taken with them two or three dozen dead souls, who for a long time, have taken no part in the work of the organization. We have really no reason to exaggerate the extent of the loss. But is it indispensable to clearly take account of the event.

Well, like his twin, Senin, remained always a strange figure in the ranks of the Opposition. More than once we had to ask, “What keeps these inflated petty bourgeois in the Opposition?” They formerly belonged to the Party, then joined the Right, then came to the Left Opposition and immediately on different occasions began to talk on this or that point of our platform, understanding it half way or not at all. Yet, not once, in spite of repeated proposals, have they tried to formulate their real position. This is explained by the fact that they had no position.

They belonged to that type pretty well divided between wavering intelligence and semi-intelligence, for whom ideas and principles occupy second place, and in the first rank stands the concern for personal independence, which in a particular case, passes over into anxiety for one’s personal career. So long as such a nomad has not found a final haven, he has never come to a complete understanding in anything and always holds the door half way open. Such types are met with naturally, also among the progressive workers, but rather as exceptions. But in the petty bourgeois milieu of “revolutionary” semi-intellectuals they constitute, we must admit, not less than 51%.

The petty bourgeoisie of old Russia threw up from its midst a significant number of revolutionists. Most of them, however, remained revolutionists only to the end of the University, then to become officials, or simple nobodies. Only a very limited percentage were won over to the proletarian spirit and remained in the path of the revolution to the end.

The Jewish intelligentsia and semi-intelligentsia, which is most numerous on the periphery of old Russian (Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine) was spared the way of the official. Hence the rather higher percentage of Jewish revolutionists in old Russia. But in the majority, these grouped themselves in the petty bourgeois parties, the Mensheviks, the Bund. In the October revolution the majority were on the other side of the barricades. After the victory, they began readily to join the Bolsheviks. To this type belong today many of the dignitaries and likewise the Soviet ambassadors: Chintschuk in Germany, Majaki in London, etc.

But in still more significant numbers then the old Mensheviks, the young generation of the petty bourgeoisie and especially of the Jewish intelligentsia of the border districts, have rushed into the door of the Bolshevik party after the completed October victory and especially after the end of the civil war. Without connection with the population, peasant as well as proletarian, without serious insight into the affairs of the proletariat, these elements hastened to take over the official posts in the state, party and union apparatus. I remember how after my first trip in Ukraine under war conditions, I told Lenin how the petty bourgeois intellectual, thanks to his flexibility and his (not too high) culture, was here and there shoving aside worker Bolsheviks with a serious training in struggle. We agreed to determine upon certain measures for the cleansing of the Party and the soviet apparatus of such newcomers.

This heterogeneous crowd, which has many claims and many dissatisfactions, later joined any opposition, even if not for long. But as soon as it became plain that it was a question of a serious struggle demanding sacrifices, the petty bourgeois bureaucratic oppositionists quickly returned under the benediction of the Party and transformed their repentance generally into a means for career ends. So it was also in the beginning with the Left Opposition. In 1925, thousands of Wells rushed under the banner. It was only in the course of the following year that the proletarian kernel of the Left Opposition could cleanse itself of the compromising companions. These gentlemen then became the most furious persecutors of the Opposition; the apparatus made use of them, not without, however, showing a certain contempt for them.

In Western Europe, although the struggle of the Left Opposition is carried on under difficulties, still it is not under such a terrible pressure as in the Soviet Union. In Germany, France, and other countries the fellow travellers could hold out longer. Let us recollect the most “colorful” collapses off the deserters of the Opposition into Stalin’s camp within the last year or two: In Austria, – Graf; in France – Mill; in Germany – Well and Senin. All of them, different variations of one and the same social type. Coming from the border cities of old Czarist Russia, from petty bourgeois environment, without serious convictions, but endowed with the aptness to seize upon a couple of ideas in flight and with them to operate without ability – until their substitution by other ideas just as fertile but more promising. Each of the above mentioned belonged to some one of the foreign parties, but did not find the promised recognition; left them or were expelled, looked for other ways, joined the Right, then the left Opposition, as the passerby jumps in the trolley car, and then left the Opposition as the passenger leaves the trolley, when he wants to get off at a certain street. These people are considerably more dangerous for the organization to which they belong than for that one against which they struggle. A half hour before their capitulation, all of them, Graf and Mill and Well and Senin, drew back with indignation at the mere thought of the possibility of their return to Stalin’s camp. And 30 minutes after their last oath they broke with the Opposition in the most impudent and noisy manner, in order to immediately raise their price in the market of the Stalin bureaucracy. At the mildest estimation, we can call these people nothing but the garbage of the revolution.

And nevertheless they played a significant role in some sections. How can this be explained? A part of the explanation is already given through the hint of the Ukrainian experience. Even within the revolutionary proletarian organization the intellectuals, descended from the bourgeoisie, enjoyed their social advantages at least to a certain degree and up to a certain point of time. The worker is bound to the job. Unless he is unemployed, he generally does not tear himself from his roots. To move into the country or from one country to another is hard for him. He does not possess foreign languages. Even in his native tongue he does not write so easily. The composition of articles and resolutions causes him much trouble. The result is that the mobile intellectual, which is neither with experience nor knowledge but therefore knows all things and all people, is present everywhere and ready to write articles on everything with his left foot, frequently sits on the neck of the workers’ organizations. Naturally such a state of affairs to a considerable degree characterizes the youth of the organization. But this stage must be passed. It is time to become mature. The workers in greater numbers than hitherto must take the whole work into their hands. It is understood that this does not mean the driving away of the intellectuals – on the contrary, intellectuals, who have knowledge, who work and are devoted, are very necessary to us, – but this means at all events a serious test of little known intellectuals in work, and slow, very slow advancement to leading posts. We only need such intellectuals as place themselves tirelessly and to the end at the disposal of the workers organization.

The Bolshevik-Leninists must seriously place the question of the training and education of new cadres of the proletarian youth. The Left Opposition has its own revolutionary conceptions, its own history and tradition. Only on this basis can a serious proletarian revolutionist be educated. Two or three vulgarized slogans like “mass work”, “democratic centralism”, “united front”, etc. – that is sufficient perhaps for the Brandlerites and for the SAP, but not for us. Hand in hand with the political struggle systematic theoretical training must be carried on. The munition must be prepared for a whole historical epoch.

The “Well case” has more of a scandalous than a tragic character. But that does not in the least decrease its lessons. From the episodic struggle with little deserters, we must get the most for the revolutionary training of cadres. What takes place today within the frame of a small organization, will be often repeated later on a larger scale, not only before the revolution but after its victory as well.

The Well type occupies a big place in the apparatus of the Stalinist bureaucracy, not only in the USSR, but also in the capitalist countries. The “revolutionary” petty bourgeois is always torn between anarchy and (Kasern). They keep their hands on the seam of their trousers until the first serious lesson or the first serious danger; but they will continually find sufficiently important grounds to avoid the struggle. After the final victory of the proletariat they will come back again and probably organize the “society of old Bolshevik Leninists.” There have been examples of that. We must learn to test people in little shake ups, in second rate crises, in order not to be surprised at the sharp turns of history.

There is another important practical lesson which arises from the Well case. The Stalinist apparatus soon on an international scale means above all a certain number of jobs. This is no unimportant political factor, especially in the years of the world crisis. Graf, Well, Mill and the others are not in a position to claim a responsible post, since the competition is keen and each bureaucrat hangs on to his own post with tooth and nail, and looks upon the newcomer with suspicion. But the situation is immediately changed if the candidate previously breaks into the opposition, brings about a certain disintegration in its ranks and then loudly leaves it – as a hero of the struggle against “counter-revolutionary Trotkyism”. The stock of such a candidate will immediately rise. I will not say that Graf or Well entered the Opposition with the ready made intention of betraying it (although in the USSR we have observed hundreds of such cases). But it is enough that the disposition to betrayal is part of the nature of such people, who are lacking in the revolutionary moral base. The constant doubt and dissatisfaction on the one hand as to their own insufficiency and on the other the exceptional temptations of the powerful apparatus – that is quite enough. In the Comintern, in the GPU, in each national section there is a special apparatus for the disintegration of the Left Opposition, composed for the most part of deserters of the Opposition or of Stalinist agents, who give themselves out as Oppositionists. If the German comrades take the necessary trouble, they will surely discover the connections of such agents, which lead from Well-Graf to Manuilski and Menschinski. How many Agebekoffs are engaged in the struggle against the “counter-revolutionary” opposition? It stands to reason that no agent can destroy an historical progressive tendency embodied in the tradition of revolutionary Marxism. But it would be an unpardonable frivolity to ignore the actions of the Stalinist agents for the introduction of confusion and disintegrations, as also of direct corruption we must be attentive and watch out!

And from this point of view it is of utmost importance to reinforce the cadres of the Opposition by revolutionary proletarians, who live before the eyes of the masses and are under their continual control. Naturally the workers also are no angels. The whole history of the social democratic cadres proves this, as also the history of Bolshevism after the seizure of power. Nevertheless the Left Opposition at present is passing through a much earlier stage. A worker in the Left Opposition cannot seek bureaucratic posts. To go through the Opposition as a passage towards becoming a Soviet official or a journalist under Thalman does not enter the worker’s mind. Just now, in its period of critical offensive, the Opposition can and must win over the best representatives of the young generation of the proletariat, those who are tested in struggle, the most unselfish ones, the most far sighted. The cleansing of the opposition of revolutionary garbage makes this task easier.

January 28, 1933

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Last updated on: 17.4.2007