G. Gourov

More on the Paris Conference

A Step Forward or A Step to the Right?

(September 1933)

Written: 10 September 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 45, 30 September 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.

When a movement enters a new, a higher stage, there are always elements who defend the yesterday. A wider perspective frightens them. They see nothing but difficulties and dangers.

Comrades who participated in one of the meetings of Bolshevik-Leninists communicated to me somewhat the following criticism of one of the participants: “We made no gains at the Paris conference; the whole matter came down to negotiations and agreements at the top; such a policy cannot have any revolutionary significance; the joint declaration signed by the ‘summits’ of four organizations signifies in reality a deviation towards the social-democracy ...” Since this criticism, reflects – it is true, in a very exaggerated form – the doubts and apprehensions of a certain number of comrades (according to all information, of a small minority), it is necessary to examine seriously the above enumerated arguments.

“The negotiations were carried on by the tops”. What does this argument mean? Conference and conventions always consist of the “tops”, that is of representatives. It is an impossible task to assemble in one place all the members of the Left Opposition, the S.A.P., R.S.P. and O.S.P. How can agreements between organizations be made without negotiations of the representatives, that is “tops”? On this point the criticism evidently lacks any sense.

Pressure from Ranks

Or does the author of the criticism want to say that the representatives of the organizations which signed the joint declaration do not express the opinion of the rank and file? Let us examine this argument as well. With regard to the S.A.P. it is known to all that the rank and file of the party have been striving for a long time not only for a closer approach to us but for a complete fusion with us, while until very recently, the tops evaded the issue, put breaks upon it, fearing a separation from possible allies of the right. In this case what does it mean that the tops found themselves compelled to sign jointly with us a most important document? The answer is clear: the pressure of the rank and file towards the Left, that is toward us, became so strong that the leaders of the S.A.P. were forced to turn to us. Those who know how to interpret political facts and symptoms correctly will say that this is a great victory. This conclusion retains its full force independently of the fact how adroitly, or skillfully the negotiations between the tops were carried on. Not the negotiations decided the matter but the whole preceding work of the Left Opposition.

With regard to the O.S.P. (Holland ) the situation is approximately the same. This organization was not connected with us at all. Two years ago it found itself in a bloc with Seidewitz and Rosenfeld. Today it drew nearer to us. It is clear that the leaders of this organization would have never made this step if there had not been a strong pull to the left on the part of the rank and file.

With the R.S.P. (Sneevliet) the matter stands somewhat differently. Friendly relations existed here already for quite some time. Many comrades know what active support Sneevliet and his friends have rendered the Left Opposition during the Copenhagen conference and especially, during the Amsterdam anti-war congress. The Comintern question prevented this political proximity from taking on an organizational form. [1] When we declared ourselves for a new International the wall dividing us was broken down. Is it not clear that in this case our new orientation brought immediately a concrete and valuable result?

Our Conjectures

About three months ago we wrote hypothetically that with a broad and decisive policy we could probably find not a few allies among Left socialist groupings. A month, a month and a half ago, we voiced the conjecture that a break with the Comintern would greatly facilitate the influx to our side of revolutionary groupings of social-democratic origin. Is it not clear that the Paris conference confirmed both these conjectures and on a scale that we ourselves could not expect two, or three months ago? Under these conditions, to complain that everything came down to negotiations by the “tops” and to assert that the new alliance has no revolutionary significance is to reveal a complete ignorance of the basic processes which are now taking place within the proletariat.

But particularly strange (mildly speaking) sounds the argument that we are making a turn towards ... reconciliation with the social democracy. The Stalinists slander us in this manner and not for the first time. What basis is there for carrying these “arguments” into our own organization? Let us, however, examine them somewhat closer. The Paris conference was called not by us. We take not the slightest responsibility for its composition and agenda. We came to this conference to present there our point of view. Possibly our Declaration contained some concessions to the social-democracy? Let someone get up courage to say it! The Declaration signed by four organizations, it is understood, does not contain our program. But it defines clearly the road of the Fourth International on the basis of an irreconcilable struggle with the social-democracy, a complete break with bureaucratic centrism and a resolute condemnation of all attempts on the manner of the Two and a Half International. Where are in this concessions to the social-democracy?

Principled Declaration

The Declaration of Four does not give, and, under the circumstances of the matter, could not give an answer to all the problems of program and strategy. It is clear that it is impossible to build a new International on the basis of this Declaration. But neither did we intend anything of the sort. The Declaration itself states clearly that the organizations which signed the Declaration obligate themselves to elaborate, within a short time, a programmatic Manifesto which should become the fundamental document of the new International. All our sections, all the three allied organizations, as well as all sympathizing groups and elements should be drawn to this work. Do we intend to make any concessions to the social democracy in this Manifesto? The Declaration of the Bolshevik-Leninists, made public at the conference, states clearly on what basis we propose to write the Manifesto: the decisions of the first four Congresses of the Comintern, the “21 Conditions”, the “11 points” of the L.O. Only the future will show whether any serious disagreements will arise on this basis between ourselves and our allies. If disagreements should arise, we will seriously fight for our point of view. Until now we have not shown any excessive pliancy in questions of principle.

The same critics also add the following argument: the new International can be built only on the wave of the ascent of the revolutionary movement; now, however, in the atmosphere of decline all attempts in this direction are doomed in advance to failure. This profound historic argument is borrowed as a whole from the sterile scholastic Souvarine (who, alas, as far aa I know, has meanwhile had time to make a turn of 180 degrees). The necessity of a break with the Second International and the preparation for the Third International was proclaimed by the Bolsheviks in the Autumn of 1914, that is, in the atmosphere of a frightful disintegration of socialist parties. At that time also there was no lack of wise men who spoke of the “utopianism” (the word “bureaucratism” was not in such abuse then) of the slogan of the Third International. Kausky went further in his famous aphorism “The International is an instrument of peace and not of war”. In reality the same idea is expressed by the critics quoted above; the International is an instrument of ascent and not of decline”. The proletariat has need of an Internatioanl at all times and under all conditions. If there is no Comintern today, we must say so openly, and immediately start the preparation for a new International. How soon we will be able to put it on its feet, depends, of course, on the whole march of the class struggle, on the decline, or ascent of the workers’ movement, etc. But even in the period of the worst decline it is necessary to prepare for a future ascent, giving our own cadres a correct orientation.

Fatalistic complaints about the objective decline most often reflect a subjective decline.

Zimmerwald and Kienthal

Let us take the conferences of Zimmerwald and Kienthal as a comparison. They consisted, necessarily, of the “tops” (every conference consists of tops). By the number of workers directly represented they were weaker than the Paris conference. The majority in Zimmerwald and Kienthal consisted of Right-Centrist elements (Ledebour who could not resolve to vote against the war budget, Hoffman, Bourderon, Merheim, Grimm, Axelrod, Martov, and others). Lenin found it possible to sign the Manifesto of the whole conference despite the vagueness of this document. [2]

As far as the Zimmerwald “left” was concerned, it was extremely weak. After the rout of the Bolshevik Duma fraction and of the local organizations, the Bolshevik party was no stronger during the war than the present Russian Left Opposition. Other left groups were incomparably weaker than our three present allies. The general position of the workers’ movement in the conditions of war seemed absolutely hopeless. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks, as well as the group of Nashe Slovo took a course towards the Third International from the very beginning of the war. Without this course the October revolution would have been impossible.

We repeat: Lenin found it possible under the then existing conditions to sign together with Ledebour, Bourderon, Grimm and Martov a Manifesto against the war. The Bolshevik-Leninists did not sign now the resolution of the majority of the Paris conference and will, of course, take no responsibility upon themselves for this majority. Perhaps the policy of Lenin at Zimmerwald and Kienthal was ... a turn towards the social-democracy? But the objection may be raised that now under the conditions of peace a stricter selection is necessary than in war time. Correct! Ledebour and Bourderon endangered themselves by signing the Manifesto of Zimmerwald, while Tranmel and Co. carry on their maneuvers (the right hand to the Scandinavian social-democracy, the pinky of the Left – to the Paris conference) without running any risk. It is precisely for this reason that we refused to sign the meaningless resolution of the Paris majority. Where are here concessions to the social-democracy?

Not Responsible for Allies

However, two of our allies – our opponents will say to us – have signed the resolution of the majority showing thereby that they have not as yet made the final choice. Absolutely correct! But neither do we take any responsibility for our allies just as they take no responsibility for us. The terms of our agreement are clearly formulated and are now accessible to all. The future will show which side our allies will finally choose. We want to help them make the right choke. One of the most important rules of revolutionary strategy reads as follows: watch your ally as well as your enemy. Mutual criticism on the basis of full equality. In this there is no truce of back-stage diplomacy of the tops; everything is done and will be done in full view of the masses, under their control, for the purpose of the education of the masses. Other ways and means of reovlutionary policy do not exist at all.

There are also other rules of revolutionary policy which it is advisable to remind of: do not get frightened in vain and do not frighten others without cause! do not invent false accusations; do not look for capitulation where there is none; do not replace Marxist discussion by unprincipled squabbles. Long experiences has shown that precisely at the time when an organization is getting ready to get out from the narrow alley onto a wider arena, elements can be always found who have grown fast to their alley, know all their neighbors, are used to carry all the alley news and rumors and are busy with the terribly important affairs of the “change of ministries” in their own alley. These conservative and sectarian elements are very much afraid that on a wider arena their art will find no application. They grab, therefore, the wagon by its wheels and try to turn it back, and they justify theirs, in essence, reactionary work by terribly “revolutionary” and “principled” arguments. We have tried above to weigh these arguments on the scale of Marxian dialectics. Let the comrades themselves decide what is their weight.

September 10, 1933

G. Gourov


1. The differences on the trade-union question lost their former sharpness, if not disappeared altogether.

2. By the way, some wise men recall, without any rhyme or reason, the “August bloc” of 1912, which had only national limits, but leave unobserved the international Zimmerwald conference, the analogy which suggests itself.

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Last updated on: 22 October 2015