Leon Trotsky

Our Present Tasks

(November 1933)

Written: 7 November 1933.
Published: New International [New York], Vol. IX No. 7, July 1943, pp. 220–221.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Damon Maxwell, September 2008.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

The victory of National Socialism in Germany has brought about in other countries not the strengthening of communist but of democratic tendencies. In an especially clear form we see this in the examples of England and Norway. But the same process is undoubtedly taking place in a series of other countries as well. It is very possible that the Social-Democracy in Belgium in particular will in the nearest future go through a period of a new political ascent. That reformism is the worst brake on historic development and that the Social-Democracy is doomed to failure –; this is ABC to us. But the ABC alone does not suffice. In the general historic decline of reformism, just as in the decline of capitalism, periods of temporary rise are inevitable. The candle burns most brightly before it goes out. The formula: either fascism or communism, is absolutely correct, but only in the final historic analysis. The destructive policy of the Comintern, supported by the authority of the workers’ state, has not only compromised revolutionary methods but has also given to the social democracy, defiled by crimes and treacheries, the opportunity of raising up again over the working class the banner of democracy as the banner of salvation.

Two Pairs of Alternatives

Tens of millions of workers are alarmed to the very depth of their hearts by the danger of fascism. Hitler showed them again what the destruction of working-class organizations and of elementary democratic rights means. The Stalinists kept on asserting for the last couple of years that there is no difference between fascism and democracy, that fascism and social-democracy are twins. On the tragic experience of Germany, the workers of the whole world convinced themselves of the criminal absurdity of such assertions. Hence, the further decline of the Stalinist parties, under conditions exceptionally favorable for die revolutionary wing. Hence, also, the desire of the workers to hold on to their mass organizations and to their democratic rights. Thanks to the ten-year criminal policy of the Stalinized Comintern, the political problem presents itself to the consciousness of the many-millioned working-class masses not in the form of a decisive alternative: the dictatorship of fascism or the dictatorship of the proletariat, but in the form of a more primitive and vague alternative: fascism or democracy.

We must take the resultant political situation as it is, without creating any illusions. Of course, we remain always true to ourselves and to our banner; always and under all conditions we say openly who we are, what we want and where we are going. But we cannot force our program upon the masses mechanically. The experience of the Stalinists on this score is sufficiently eloquent. Instead of coupling their locomotive to the train of the working class and accelerating its movement forward, the Stalinists set their locomotive with a loud whistle toward the train of the proletariat and sometimes even collide with it, so that only scrap is left of the small locomotive. The consequences of such a policy are evident: in some countries the proletariat has fallen a defenseless victim of fascism; in others it has been thrown back to the positions of reformism.

There can be no thought, of course, of a serious and protracted regenerat ion of reformism. It is really not a question of reformism in the wide sense of the word but of the instinctive desire of the workers to safeguard their organizations and their “rights.” From this purely defensive and purely conservative position, the working class, in the process of struggle, can and must, go over to a revolutionary offensive along the whole line. The offensive, in its turn, must make the masses more susceptible to great revolutionary tasks and consequently to our program. But to achieve this we must go through the period opening up before us together with the masses, in their first ranks, without dissolving in them but also without detaching ourselves from them.

The Stalinists (and their miserable imitators, the Brandlerites), declared democratic slogans under prohibition for all the countries of the world: for India, which did not as yet accomplish its liberating national revolution; for Spain, where the proletarian vanguard must yet find the ways for transforming the creeping bourgeois revolution into a socialist one; for Germany, where the crushed and atomized proletariat is deprived of all that it achieved during the last century; for Belgium, the proletariat of which does not take its eyes off its Eastern borders and, suppressing a deep mistrust, supports the party of democratic “pacifism” (Vandervelde & Co.). The Stalinists deduce the bare renunciation of democratic slogans in a purely abstract way from the general characteristic of our epoch, as an epoch of imperialism and of socialist revolution.

Thus presented, the question contains not even a grain of dialectics! Democratic slogans and illusions cannot be abolished by decree. It is necessary that the masses go through them and outlive them in the experience of battles. The task of the proletariat consists in coupling its locomotive to the train of the masses. It is necessary to find the dynamic elements in the present defensive position of the working class; we must make the masses draw conclusions from their own democratic logic, we must widen and deepen the channels of the struggle. And on this road, quantity passes over into quality.

The Experience of 1917

Let us recall once more that in 1917, when the Bolsheviks were immeasurably stronger than any one of the present sections of the Comintern, they continued to demand the earliest convocation of the Constituent Assembly, the lowering of the voting age, the right of suffrage for soldiers, the election of officers, etc., etc. The main slogan o£ the Bolsheviks, “All Power to the Soviets,” meant from the beginning of April up to September, 1917, all power to the Social-Democracy (Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists). When the reformists entered into a governmental coalition with the bourgeoisie, the Bolsheviks put forth the slogan, “Down with the Capitalist Ministers.” This signified again, Workers, force the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionists to take the whole power into their hands! The political experience of the only successful proletarian revolution is perverted and falsified by the Stalinists beyond recognition. Our task, here also, consists in reestablishing the facts and drawing from them the necessary conclusions for the present.

We, Bolsheviks, consider that the real salvation from fascism and war lies in the revolutionary conquest of power and the establishing of the proletarian dictatorship. You, socialist workers, do not agree to this road. You hope not only to save what has been gained, but also to move forward along the road of democracy. Good! As long as we have not convinced you and attracted you to our side, we are ready to follow this road with you to the end. But we demand that you carry on the struggle for democracy, not in words but in deeds. Everybody admits –; each in his own way –; that in the present conditions a “strong government” is necessary. Well, then, make your party open up a real struggle for a strong democratic government. For this is it necessary first of all to sweep away all the remnants of the feudal state. It is necessary to give the suffrage to all men and women who have reached their eighteenth birthday, also to the soldiers in the army. Full concentration of legislative and executive power in the hands of one chamber! Let your party open up a serious campaign under these slogans, let it arouse millions of workers, let it conquer power through the drive of the masses. This, at any rate, would be a serious attempt of struggle against fascism and war. We, Bolsheviks, would retain the right to explain to the workers the insufficiency of democratic slogans; we could not take upon ourselves the political responsibility for the social-democratic government; but we would honestly help you in the struggle for such a government; together with you we would repel all attacks of bourgeois reaction. More than that, we would bind ourselves before you not to undertake any revolutionary actions which go beyond the limits of democracy (real democracy) so long as the majority of the workers has not consciously placed itself on the side of revolutionary dictatorship.

For the coming period this should be our attitude toward socialist and non-party workers. Having taken, together with them, the initial positions of democratic defense, we must immediately impart to this defense a serious proletarian character. We must firmly say to ourselves, we shall not allow that which occurred in Germany! It is necessary that every class-conscious worker imbue himself through and through with the thought of not allowing fascism to raise its head. It is necessary systematically and persistently to encircle the hearths of fascism (newspapers, clubs, fascist barracks) with a proletarian blockade. We must make fighting agreements with political, trade union, cultural, sport, cooperative and other working class organizations for common actions in defense of the institutions of proletarian democracy. The more serious and thoughtful, the less noisy and boastful the character of the work, the sooner will we gain the confidence of the proletariat, beginning with the youth, and the surer will it lead to victory.

That is the way I picture the basic characteristics of a truly Marxian policy for the coming period. In different countries of Europe this policy will, of course, assume a different form, depending on national circumstances. To follow attentively all the changes in the situation and all the shifts in the consciousness of the masses, and to put forth at every new stage slogans flowing from the whole situation –; in this consists the task of revolutionary leadership.

November 7, 1933

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Last updated on: 5 January 2016