L. Trotsky

For the Fourth International

Letter to a Member of the Independent Labor Party

(January 1934)

Written: 5 January 1934.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VII No. 3, 27 January 1934, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2016. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

I am informed that the I.L.P. has weakened considerably in the last period. Its membership, it is claimed, has fallen to four thousand. It is possible, even very probable, that this report is exaggerated. But the general tendency does not seem to me improbable. I will say more: the leadership of the I.L.P. bears a considerable share of responsibility for the weakening of the organization before which all the conditions opened up and – I want to hope – still open up a wide perspective.

If a worker barely awakened to political life seeks a mass organization, without distinguishing as yet either programs or tactics, he will naturally join the Labor Party. A worker disillusioned with reformism and exasperated by the betrayals of the political and trade union leaders has attempted more than once – and is partly attempting even now – to join the Communist party behind which he sees the image of the Soviet Union. But where is the worker who will join the I.L.P.? And exactly what political motives will impel him to take this step?

The Question of a Banner

It seems to me that the leaders of the I.L.P. have as yet not given themselves a clear answer to this cardinal question. Working masses are not interested in shadings and details but in great events, clear slogans, far-seen banners. How does the matter stand with the I.L.P. about a banner? Not well. I say this with great regret. But it must be said. To suppress or embellish the facts would be rendering a poor service to your party.

The I.L.P. broke away from the Labor Party. That was correct. If the I.L.P. wanted to become the revolutionary lever it was impossible that the handle of this lever be left in the hands of through-and-through opportunists and bourgeois careerists. Complete and unconditional political and organizational independence of a revolutionary party is the first prerequisite far its success.

But while breaking away from the Labor Party it was necessary immediately to turn towards it. Of course, not to make court to its leaders, or to pay them bitter-sweet compliments, or even to suppress their criminal acts, – no, only characterless centrists, who imagine themselves revolutionaries, seek a road to the masses by accommodating themselves to the leaders, by humouring them and re-assuring them at every step of their friendship and loyalty. A policy of this sort is a road that leads down to the swamp of opportunism. One must seek a way to the reformist masses not through the favor of their leaders but against the leaders, because opportunist leaders represent not the masses but merely their backwardness, their servile Instincts, finally, their confusion. But the masses have other, progressive, revolutionary traits that strive to find their political expression. The to-morrow of the masses is most clearly counterposed to their yesterday in the struggle of programs, parties, slogans and leaders. Instinctively working masses are always “for unity”. But besides class instinct there is also political wisdom. Harsh experience teaches the workers that a break with reformism is the prerequisite for real unity which is possible only in revolutionary action. Political experience teaches all the better and faster, the more firmly, logically, convincingly and clearly the revolutionary party interprets the experience to the masses.

Lesson of Anglo-Russian Committee

The Leninist method of the united front and political fraternization with reformists exclude each other. Temporary practical fighting agreements with mass organizations even headed by the worst reformists are inevitable and obligatory for a revolutionary party. Lasting political alliances with reformist leaders without a definite program without concrete duties, without the participation of the masses themselves in militant actions – are the worst type of opportunism. The Anglo-Russian committee remains tor ever the classic example of such a demoralizing alliance.

One of the most important bridges to the masses are the trade unions where one can and must work without accommodating to the leaders in the least, on the contrary, struggling irreconcilably against them, openly, or under cover, depending on the circumstances. But besides the trade unions there are numberless ways of participating in the daily life of the masses – in the factory, on the street, in sport organizations, even in church and saloon, under the condition that the greatest heed be paid to what the masses feel and think, how they react to events, what they expect and what] they hope for, how and why they let themselves be deceived by reformist leaders. Observing the masses constantly and most thoughtfully, the revolutionary party must not, however, adapt itself passively to them (“chvostism”) ; on the contrary, it must counterpose their judgment to their prejudices.

It would be particularly wrong to ignore or minimize the importance of parliamentary work. Of course, parliament cannot transform capitalism into socialism, or improve the conditions of the proletariat in rotting capitalist society. But. revolutionary work in parliament and in connection with parliament, especially in England, can be of great help in training and educating the masses. One courageous exclamation of MacGovern refreshed and stirred the workers deceived on stupefied by the pious, hypocritical, flag speeches of Lansbury, Henderson and other gentlemen of “His Majesty’s opposition” of flunkeys.

Unfortunately, having become an independent party, the I.L.P. turned not towards the trade unions and the Labor party, not to the masses altogether, but to the Communist party which had during a number of years conclusively proven its bureaucratic dullness and absolute inability to approach the class. If even the German catastrophe taught these people nothing, then the doors of the Comintern should bear the same inscription as the entrance to hell: “Lasciatte ogni speranza” (’’Leave all hope behind”).

The I.L.P. had not freed itself’ by far of all the defects of the Left wing of the Labor Party (theoretical vagueness, lack of a clear program, of revolutionary methods, of a strong organization) when it hastened to take upon itself the responsibility for the incurable failings of the Comintern. It is clear that in this situation new revolutionary workers will not join the I.L.P.; sooner will many of its old members leave it, having lost patience. If demi-reformist, petty bourgeois radicals and pacifists leave the I.L.P. we can only wish them a happy journey. But it is a different matter when discontented workers quit the party.

* * * *

The International Question

The causes for the enfeeblement of the I.L.P. are seen with special clarity and precision when the problem is approached from the international point of view which is of decisive importance in our epoch. Having broken with the Second International, the I.L.P. approached the Third but did not join it. The I.L.P. is simply hanging in the air. Meanwhile, every thinking worker wants to belong to such a party that occupies a definite international position: in the unbreakable union with co-thinkers of other countries he sees the confirmation of the correctness of his own position. True, the I.L.P. enters the so-called London Bureau. But the chief characteristic of this Bureau consists, unfortunately, in the absence of all position. It would suffice to say that the Norwegian Workers Party, which under the leadership of the treacherous opportunist Thanmael goes over more openly along the social-democratic road, belongs to this Bureau. Tranmael and Co. need the temporary alliance with the I.L.P. and with other left organizations to pacify their own Left wing and gradually to prepare for themselves the way to the Second International. Now Tranmael is approaching the harbor.

On the other side, the Socialist Workers Party of Germany (SAP) and the Independent Socialist Party of Holland (OSP) also belong to the London Bureau. Both these organizations stand on the point of view of the Fourth International. Their adherence to the Bureau reflects merely their yesterday. We, Communists-Internationalists (Left Opposition) have considered and consider it a great mistake of our allies, the SAP and the OSP, that until now they have not broken openly and decisively with Tranmael and with the London Bureau in general. We do not doubt, however, that the hour of such a rupture is near.

The London Bureau What is the position of the I.L.P.? Entering the London Bureau it becomes by this very fact an ally of Tranmael, that is, essentially of the Second International. Through the SAP and the OSP it becomes a sort of an ally, or semi-ally of the Fourth International. This is not all – outside of the London Bureau the I.L.P. finds itself in a temporary alliance with the British Communist Party, that is with the Third International. Are not there somewhat too many Internationals for one party? Can the English worker make head or tail out of this confusion?

At the Paris conference the I.L.P. delegates said that they did not lose hope of attracting the Comintern to participation in the building of a broad revolutionary International. Nearly a half year elapsed since. Is it possible, that no answer came yet? How much time do the leading comrades of the I.L.P. need to understand that the Comintern is incapable of making one step forward, that it is completely ossified, that as a revolutionary party it is dead? If the I.L.P wants to continue waiting for miracles, that is to live in hopes on the Comintern, or to remain outside of the main historic currents, its own members will inevitably lose confidence in it. Swedish Communist Party.

The same fate awaits the Swedish Independent Communist Party. For fear of making an error it abstains from all decision, not realizing that precisely this is the greatest error. In general, there are not a few politicians who consider expectation and evasiveness as the highest wisdom. “Do not hurry with the Fourth International, they say, now is not the time”. It is not a matter of bureaucratically “proclaiming” the new International but of uninterrupted struggle for its preparation and building. “Not to hurry” means in practice to lose time. “Perhaps the new International will not be needed, perhaps a miracle will happen, perhaps ...” This policy which seems to some people very realistic is the worst type of utopianism, spun out of passivity, ignorance and belief in miracles. If the Swedish Independent Party will not shake off its pseudo-realistic superstitions, it will weaken, waste away and finally be torn between three Internationals.

Events Will Confirm Our Slogans

But the masses – so object some pseudo-realists – are afraid of a new International as of a new split”. This is absolutely natural. The masses’ fear of a new party and of a new International is a reflection (one of the reflections) of the great catastrophe, the terrible defeat, the disillusionment of the masses their bewilderment, their disbelief in themselves. How long these moods will last depends mainly on the course of events but to a certain extent also on us. We do not bear any responsibility for the course of events but we answer fully for our own attitude. The advantage of the advance-guard over the masses consists therein that we illuminate theoretically the march of events and foresee its future stages. The formless, passive longing for “unity” will receive blow after blow. The rottenness of the Second and Third Internationals will be revealed at each step. The events will confirm our prognosis and our slogans. But it is necessary that we ourselves be not afraid to unfurl our banner right now.

Lassalle used to say that a revolutionary needs the “physical power of thought”. Lenin liked to repeat these words, although in general he did not like Lassalle much. The physical power of thought consists in analyzing the situation and perspectives to the very end, and having come to the necessary practical conclusions, to defend them with conviction, courage, intransigence, not fearing some one else’s fears, not bowing before prejudices of the masses but basing on the objective course of development.

The I.L.P. of Great Britain must place itself right now under the banner of the Fourth International, or it will disappear from the scene without leaving a trace.

January 5, 1934

L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 8 February 2016