L. Trotsky

Trotsky to the Austrian
S.D. Opposition

A Reply to Some Concrete Questions

(March 1933)

Written: 3 March 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 29, 3 June 1933, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Several Austrian social democrats, in opposition to their leadership, have done me the honor of asking me for political advice or answers to several concrete questions. Needless to say, I am wholly ready to answer the questions put to me, within the limits prescribed by my absence from the scene of immediate struggle.

1. The idea is apparently widespread among the Austrian Left social democrats that all is irretrievably lost already. Such a pessimistic manner of judging a priori is theoretically false and politically impermissible. Doubtless the most favorable moment for struggle has been allowed to slip by. But the struggle can also be carried on in less favorable conditions and victory obtained, nevertheless. The pessimists invoke the unfavorable state of mind of the masses. Doubtless, everything that could have been done from above has been done to discourage and demoralize the workers. But the spirit of the masses is a variable magnitude. If a fighting and encouraging Left faction raises its voice in time, the state of mind of the masses can change. The conflict between the Nazis and the government can be a favorable situation for the intervention of the workers. A revolutionary should not give up a position for lost so long as it is not in the hands of the enemy.

2. The social democratic leadership true to its traditions, has completely capitulated before Dolfuss, that is, before Fascism. Only the social democratic opposition can call forth a sharp turn in the state of mind of the toiling masses. But for that it must first of all rise to the height of its historic task. Is that possible? It is useless to speculate. Action decides in this case.

3. One of the correspondents writes me: “You will no doubt demand that we join your organization.” No, today the question is not posed so abstractly. The organization of the Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists) stands,on the ground of a definite international program which has stood the test of the great historical events in a series of countries (USSR, China, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, etc.) We will naturally be very happy if the further development of events brings the social democratic opposition closer to us. On our side, we are ready to do everything to facilitate and to hasten this rapprochement through the means of comradely discussion, reciprocal criticism. But that demands a relatively long perspective. In the appreciation of the next, immediate tasks of the Austrian social democratic opposition we must above all analyze the present situation in Austria and in the Austrian social democracy.

4. The social democratic opposition can bring about a change in the state of mind of the workers on the condition that it immediately shows that it is not inclined to confine itself to literary criticism and if it is not getting ready to capitulate before the party leadership, which capitulates before Fascism. In other words, they must break away from the opposition traditions of Max Adler, whose impotent “Left” criticism only strengthens and supports Otto Bauer and Co. An opposition is needed for the revolutionary struggle and which will not be likely to hesitate in carrying out this task, out of respect for the discipline, the statutes and the unity of the party.

5. The opposition poses for itself the task of “saving the party,” What are we to understand by that: the tradition of Austro-Marxism, its political course, its bureaucratic apparatus? But we must, on the contrary, put an end to all of this as rapidly – and as thoroughly as possible. It is impossible to save the social democratic masses from disintegration and political corruption without the proclamation of an uncompromising struggle against Bauer and Co. This struggle must inevitably lead to split. The task is just how to consummate this split with the greatest advantage for the proletarian revolution.

6. Does that mean that the Austrian social democratic opposition shall immediately leave the party and create a new one? No, that is not my opinion. Today, when the Opposition has not yet presented itself before the working masses, such a split would only facilitate the task of Bauer and Co. Here also the first step should be: to speak out what is.

7. From this point of view, the draft declaration of the social democratic opposition, which has been sent to me, is altogether inadequate. This document criticises the party leadership instead of notifying it of an uncompromising struggle against it, before the party masses. The word betrayal must be spoken out. It might be said that this word has been much abused. In the new situation the Austrian workers will examine this word in a new light, particularly when it comes from the Left social democrats. It must be stated that Bauer, Danneberg, Seitz and Co. (all of them must be called by their names) have betrayed the Austrian proletariat just as Wels and Co. betrayed the German proletariat. Only such a candid and categoric declaration will make the independent intervention of the opposition clear to the workers and at the same time inspire confidence and seriousness in its intentions.

8. The fundamental political formulations of the document are unclear, have a tendency toward compromise and risk the danger of provoking confusion among the workers.

  1. The declaration demands that the bourgeois republic be replaced by a workers democracy. What is “workers democracy?” A fight can be conducted either for the re-establishment of the bourgeois democracy or for the proletarian dictatorship. The slogan “workers democracy” is an impermissible enigma in revolutionary politics.
  2. The declaration nowhere speaks of what the political slogan (democracy or dictatorship) shall be which under present circumstances can only be realized by the armed strength of the workers.
  3. The declaration does not pose the slogan of workers’ and soldiers’ councils; however, the sabotage of the official apparatus of the social democracy and the trade unions will only crush the workers councils; the slogan of workers’ councils opens up the road to the army for the workers.

The situation can rapidly change. Many things said above can quickly alter. But one thing can be said with certainty: all half-measures, every word left unsaid on the part of the social democratic opposition will infallibly profit the party leadership and in the last analysis, Fascism also.

Prinkipo, March 3, 1933

L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 3 September 2015