Leon Trotsky

An Open Letter to
the French Workers

Stalinist Betrayal and the World Revolution

(June 1935)

Written: June 10 1935
Source: The New International [New York], Vol.2 No.5, August 1935, pp.148-151.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2003.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: David Walters in 2003.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive www.marx.org) 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

DEAR COMRADES: I leave France today, and this circumstance enables me, at last, to put my case openly before you: so long as I remained on French soil, I was condemned to silence.

Two years ago, the “Left” government of Daladier, in its honeymoon weeks, gave me permission to settle in France, presumably with the same rights as other foreigners. As a matter of fact, I was forbidden to live in Paris, and I found myself immediately under the strict surveillance of the police. Shortly after February 6, 1934, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Albert Sarraut, after a wild campaign in the press, signed a decree deporting me from France. No foreign government, however, could be found willing to accept me. This is the sole reason why the deportation order was not put into effect until now. I was instructed through the Sâreté Nationale to live in a certain department, in a tiny village under the strict surveillance of the police. Thus, during my last year’s sojourn in France I was cut off from the outside world more than when I lived on the island of Prinkipo, in Turkey, under the surveillance of the police of Kemal Pasha. Thus, the visa of a Radical government turned into a trap, after its own fashion.

Furthest from my mind is any intention to complain about the government of the Third Republic. The most “democratic” ministers, just as the most reactionary ones, have as their task to preserve capitalist slavery. I am a member of the revolutionary party which sets as its goal the overthrow of capitalism. Out of this irreconcilable contradiction there inevitably flows the struggle, with all its consequences. There is no cause here for complaint!

If, however, I took the liberty to call your attention to so minor a question as my living conditions in France it was only because this episode is most intimately bound up with the policies of the Communist International which has today become the principal obstacle on the historic road of the working class.

Two years ago, l’Humanité used to harp daily: “The Fascist Daladier has called the social-Fascist Trotsky to France in order to organize, with his assistance, a military intervention against the USSR.” There were to be found quite a number of honest but naive and ignorant people who believed in this canard, just as in the spring of 1917, millions of Russian peasants, soldiers and even workers believed Kerensky that Lenin and Trotsky were the “agents of Kaiser Wilhelm”. One should not accuse uneducated and duped people – one must, instead, enlighten them. But one can and one must accuse the enlightened scoundrels who consciously broadcast lies and slanders in order to fool the toilers. Such enlightened scoundrels are the leaders of the so-called communist (?!) party: Cachin, Thorez, Vaillant-Couturier, Duclos and Company.

Today, as everybody knows, these gentlemen have made an anti-Fascist “people’s front” with the “Fascist”, Daladier. The Stalinists who call themselves communists, have stopped talking altogether about the intervention of French imperialism into the USSR. On the contrary, at present they perceive the guarantee of peace in the military alliance between French capital and the Soviet bureaucracy. Upon the order of Stalin, Cachin, Thorez and Co. are summoning the French workers today to support their national militarism, i.e., the instrument of class oppression and of colonial enslavement. These calumniators have exposed themselves quickly and mercilessly. Yesterday they branded me as the ally of Daladier, and the agent of the French bourgeoisie, but today they themselves have actually concluded an alliance with Daladier, Herriot and Laval, and have harnessed themselves to the chariot of French imperialism.

Right now, Messrs. Calumnators are beginning to say (see, for instance, the paper of the Belgian Stalinists) that the policy of Trotsky and of the Bolshevik-Leninists performs a service not to Herriot and Daladier but Hitler, i.e., not the French but German imperialism. This new calumny, however, has the ring of much too old and familiar a melody. During the imperialist war, because I maintained the position of revolutionary internationalism, Messrs. social patriots, Renaudel, Vandervelde, Séverac, and Marcel Cachin accused me of “supporting” German militarism against the French democracy. It is precisely for this reason that the government of Briand-Malvy deported me from France in 1916. And the valiant Marcel Cachin, during this very same period, “in the interests of French democracy” and on the instructions of the imperialist government, fetched the money for Mussolini for propaganda in favor of Italy’s participation in the war. All these facts have been frequently attested in the press and may be easily verified^ and proved. Cachin, incidentally, has never even attempted to deny them.

At the present moment Marcel Cachin is resuming the very same social – patriotic labors which so dishonored him during the imperialist war. Cachin is followed by all the other leaders of the French Communist (?!) party. These are not revolutionists, but functionaries. They carry out whatever their superiors order them to do. André Marty alone gave proof in his time of the qualities of a genuine revolutionist: his past deserves respect. But the environment of the Communist International has managed to demoralize him as well.

To justify their social patriotic turn these gentlemen invoke the necessity to “defend the USSR”. This argument is utterly false. As is very well known, even the idea of “national defense” is only a mask by means of which the exploiters cover up their predatory appetites and bloody brawls for booty, turning, besides, their own nation into mere cannon fodder. But if we, Marxists, have always maintained that the imperialist bourgeoisie never can and never will defend the actual interests of its own people, how, then, can we suddenly believe that it is capable of defending the genuine interests of the USSR? Can anyone for a moment doubt that at the first favorable opportunity, French imperialism will set in motion all its forces in order to overthrow socialized property in the USSR and restore private property there? And if that is the case, then only traitors to the working class are capable of painting up their own militarism, giving direct or indirect, open or masked support to the French bourgeoisie and its diplomacy. Stalin and his French flunkeys are precisely such traitors.

To mask their betrayal they invoke, naturally, Lenin – with the self-same right as Lebas, Paul Faure, Longuet and other opportunists invoke Marx. Almost daily l’Humanité quotes Lenin’s letter to the American workers, in which the story is told of how Lenin at the beginning of 1918 received a French royalist officer in order to use his services against the Germans who had launched a new offensive against us. The aim of this unexpected argument is not to elucidate the question but, on the contrary, to throw dust in the eyes of the workers. We shall establish this immediately beyond the shadow of a doubt.

It would be absurd, of course, to deny the Soviet government the right to utilize the antagonisms in the camp of the imperialists, or if need be, to make this or another concession to the imperialists. The workers on strike also make use of the competition between capitalist enterprises, and make concessions to the capitalists, even capitulate to them when they are unable to gain victory. But does there follow from this the right of the trade union leaders to cooperate amicably with the capitalists, to paint them up, and to turn into their hirelings? No one will label as traitors the strikers who are forced to surrender. But Jouhaux, who paralyzes the class struggle of the proletariat, in the name of peace and amity with the capitalists, we not only have the right but the duty to proclaim as a traitor to the working class. Between the Brest-Litovsk policy of Lenin and the Franco-Soviet policy of Stalin there is the selfsame difference as between the policy of a revolutionary trade unionist, who after a partial defeat is compelled to make concessions to the class enemy and the policy of the opportunist who voluntarily becomes the ally and flunkey of the class enemy.

Lenin received the reactionary French officer. During those same days I also received him with the very same object in mind: Lubersac undertook to blow up bridges in the path of our retreat so that our military supplies would not fall into the hands of the Germans. Only some utterly hair-brained anarchist will view such a “transaction” as a betrayal. During those same days, the official agents of France paid me visits and offered assistance on a wider scale – artillery and foodstuffs. We very well understood that their aim was to embroil us again in a war with Germany. But the German armies were actually waging an offensive against us, and we were weak. Did we have the right to accept the “assistance” of the French General Staff under these conditions? Unconditionally, yes! I introduced precisely such a motion in the Central Executive Committee of the party on February 22, 1918. The text of this motion has been published in the official protocol of the Central Executive Committee, issued in Moscow in 1929. Here is the motion:

“As the party of the socialist proletariat in power and waging war against Germany, we, through the state organs, take all measures in order best to arm and equip our revolutionary army with all the necessary means, and with this in view to obtain them wherever possible, and, consequently, from capitalist governments as well. While so doing [our] party preserves the complete independence of its foreign policy, does not commit itself politically with any capitalist government, and in every given instance takes their proposals under consideration from the standpoint of expediency.”

Lenin was not present at this session of the CEC. He sent a note. Here is its authentic text: “Please add my vote for accepting potatoes and arms from the brigands of Anglo-French imperialism.” (Protocol, p.246.) That is how the then Bolshevik CEC reacted toward the utilization of capitalist antagonisms: practical agreements with imperialists (“accept the potatoes”) are entirely permissible; but absolutely impermissible is political solidarity with the “brigands of imperialism”.

Stalin’s crime lies not in his entering into this or another practical agreement with the class enemy: these agreements may be correct or wrong, but they cannot be rejected on principle. His crime lies in the fact that Stalin has approved the policy of the imperialist government that keeps guard over the rapacious and predatory Versailles peace. Stalin has not yet taken any sort of “potatoes” from the brigands of imperialism, but he has already solidarized politically with them.

The French bourgeoisie is, of course, able to strengthen its army which oppresses 6o million of colonial slaves without Stalin’s approval. If it required this approval, it was only in order to weaken and demoralize the class struggle of the French proletariat. By signing the cum laude to French imperialism, Stalin behaved not like a striker who is compelled to make temporary concessions to the capitalist but like a strikebreaker who paralyzes the struggle of the workers.

The betrayal of Stalin and of the leadership of the Communist International is explained by the character of the present ruling stratum in the USSR: it is a privileged and an uncontrolled bureaucracy, which has raised itself above the people and which oppresses the people. Marxism teaches usthat existence determines consciousness. T& Soviet bureaucracy above all fears criticism, movement, and risk: it is conservative, it greedily defends its own privileges. Having strangled the working class in the USSR, it has long since lost faith in the world revolution. It promises to build “socialism in one country”, if the toilers shut up, endure, and obey.

To defend the USSR the bureaucracy pins its hopes upon its political agility, upon Litvinov’s diplomacy, the military alliance with France and Czechoslovakia, but not upon the revolutionary proletariat. On the contrary, it is afraid lest the French or Czech workers frighten the new allies by their careless actions. It sets as its task: to put a brake upon the class struggle of the proletariat in the “allied” countries. Thus, the source of Stalin’s betrayal is the national conservatism of the Soviet bureaucracy, its outright hostility to the world proletarian revolution.

*  *  *

The consequences of Stalin’s betrayal manifested themselves immediately in the cynical change in the policy of the French Communist party which is led not by the leaders elected by the workers, but by agents of Stalin. Yesterday these gentlemen babbled about “revolutionary defeatism” in event of war. Today they have assumed the standpoint of “national defense” ... in the interests of securing peace. They repeat word for word the formulae of capitalist diplomacy. For, every single imperialist vulture stands for “peace”, they all conclude alliances, increase armies, manufacture poison gases, cultivate bacteria – only and solely “in the interests of peace”. He assumes the responsibility not only for the Soviet government but also for the French stock-market, its General staff, and the gases and bacteria of this staff, who says that “the FrancoSoviet pact is the guarantee of peace”. L’Humanité writes that the French government will find itself “under the control of the French workers”. But that is only a hollow phrase of miserable demagogues. Where and when has an oppressed proletariat “controlled” the foreign policy of the bourgeoisie and the activities of its arm? How can it achieve this when the entire power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie? In order to lead the army, it is necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize power. There is no other road. But the new policy of the Communist International implies the renunciation of this only road.

When a working class party proclaims that in the event of war it is prepared to “control” (i.e., to support) its national militarism and not to overthrow it, it transforms itself by this very thing into the domestic beast of capital. There is not the slightest ground for fearing such a party: it is not a revolutionary tiger but a trained donkey. It may be kept in starvation, flogged, spat upon it – it will nevertheless carry the cargo of patriotism. Perhaps only from time to time it will piteously bray: “For God’s sake, disarm the Fascist leagues.” In reply to its braying it will receive an additional blow of the whip. And deservingly so!

*  *  *

The Communist International has depicted the entry of the USSR into the League of Nations and the signing of the FrancoH Russian pact as the greatest victory of the proletariat and of peace. But what is the actual content of this victory?

The program of the Comintern, accepted in 1928, states that the “chief aim [of the League of Nations] is to put a halt to the impetus growth of the revolutionary crisis and to strangle the USSR by means of blockade or war”. Naturally enough, under such conditions the representatives of the USSR could not enter into the League of Nations, i.e., the general staff of the world imperialist counter-revolution.

But what has changed since that time? Why has the USSR found it necessary to enter into the League of Nations? Whose victory have we here? The leaders of the Comintern dupe the workers on this question as well. The French bourgeoisie would never have made an agreement with the USSR if it continued to see in the latter a revolutionary factor. Only the extreme feebleness of the world revolution has made possible the inclusion of the USSR into the system of the warring camps of imperialism.

Assuredly, had not Soviet industry achieved serious successes, if there were no Soviet tanks and Soviet aviation, no one would have reckoned with the USSR. But there are ways and ways of reckoning. Had the USSR remained the citadel of international revolution, had the Comintern waged a victorious offensive, then the ruling classes of France, England, and Italy without any vacillation would have empowered Hitler to wage a war against the USSR. But, at the present moment, after the annihilation of the revolution in China, Germany, Austria, and Spain, after the successes of European Fascism,after the collapse of the Comintern and the national degeneration of the Soviet bureaucracy, the bourgeoisie of France, England and Italy replies to Hitler: “Why run the risk of a crusade against the USSR? Even without it, Stalin is successfully strangling the revolution. It is necessary to attempt to arrive at an understanding with him.”

*  *  *

The Franco-Soviet pact is not a guarantee of peace – what brazen nonsense! – but a deal in event of war. The benefits of this deal for the USSR are problematic, to say the least. France is “bound” to come to the aid of the USSR only in the event that its co-signers in Locarno agree to it, i.e., England and Italy. This means that in case French imperialism finds it more advantageous to reach an agreement with Hitler at the last moment at the expense of the USSR, then England and Italy will always assist in legalizing this “betrayal”. L’Humanité maintains strict silence on this restrictive clause in the pact. Yet, everything hinges on it. The pact binds the USSR, but it does not bind France!

*  *  *

Let us allow, however, that the Soviet bureaucracy, after all its mistakes and crimes really had nothing left except to conclude this equivocal and unreliable military alliance with France. In that case, the Soviets could have no recourse other than to ratify the Stalin-Laval pact. But matters are entirely different in so far as France is concerned. The French proletariat must not permit its bourgeoisie to hide behind the backs of the Soviet bureaucracy. The aims of the French imperialists after signing the pact with the Soviets remain unchanged: to set a seal upon the old pillages; to prepare for new ones; to facilitate a new mobilization of the French people; to utilize the blood of the Soviet proletariat. Should the communist and socialist deputies vote in parliament in favor of the Franco-Russian alliance, they would only give another proof thereby of their betrayal of the proletariat!

The struggle against war is unthinkable without a struggle against one’s own imperialism. The struggle against imperialism is unthinkable without the struggle against its agents and allies, the reformists and the Stalinists. It is necessary ruthlessly to purge the working class organizations, both political and trade union of the social patriotic traitors to the working class, whatever be their names: Leon Blum or Thorez, Jouhaux or Monmousseau.

*  *  *

In France there is only a single group that defends honestly, consistently and courageously the principles of the proletarian revolution: the group of Bolshevik-Leninists. Its organ is the weekly newspaper La Verité. Every thinking worker is duty bound to become acquainted with this newspaper.

The Bolshevik-Leninists have defined clearly and precisely the tasks of the proletariat in the struggle against war in a special pamphlet: War and the Fourth International. First-hand knowi ledge of this pamphlet and a scrupulous discussion of the questions advanced in it are likewise the duty of every advanced proletarian, both as regards himself and his class.

The betrayal of the Stalinists, adjoined to the old betrayal of the reformists, demands a complete renovation of all proletarian organizations. A new revolutionary party is necessary! A new, Fourth International is necessary ! Service to this historic task is the content of the activity pursued by the international organization of the Bolshevik-Leninists.

The betrayal of Stalin did not catch us by surprise. We forecasted it since 1924 when the Soviet bureaucracy forsook the theory of Marx and Lenin in favor of the theory of “socialism in one country”. Shysters and philistines said that our struggle against Stalin was a “personal” struggle. Now even the blind can ascertain that this struggle is being waged for the basic principles of internationalism and revolution.

During the last few years we have said hundreds of times: “Scratch a Stalinist and you will find an opportunist.” Today, there is no need even to scratch. The Stalinists actually stand at the extreme Right wing of the working class movement, and to the extent that they continue to drape themselves with the authority of the October revolution, they are immeasurably more harmful than the old, traditional opportunists.

The hatred of the Stalinists toward the Bolshevik-Leninists (the “Trotskyists”) is the hatred of conservative bureaucrats towards genuine revolutionists. In its struggle against the Bolshevik-Lenmists nothing is too low and vile for the bureaucracy, trembling for its power and income.

Prior to executing his latest open betrayal, Stalin carried out a new pogrom – for the hundredth time – against the Left wing in the USSR. He initiated a number of fraudulent trials of oppositionists, hiding their real views and ascribing to them acts which they never committed. Thus, the former chairman of the Communist International, Zinoviev, was condemned to so years’ imprisonment solely because, after a number of vacillations and recantations, he was compelled to admit the fatal character of Stalin’s policies.

The Soviet bureaucracy made an attempt to implicate me, through a provocateur, in the trial of the terrorists who assassinated Kirov. In the beginning of this year Stalin arrested my son, a young scientist, a loyal Soviet worker, in no way involved in the political struggle. The aim of this arrest is to wage a relentless terror not only against the BolshevikHLeninists but also the members of their family. The bureaucracy knows no pity in sight of the impending threat to its domination and its privileges. In this sphere the Stalinists find constant support on the part of the capitalist police of the entire world.

Only recently, in the month of April, Stalin sent the leaders of the Russian Young Communist League to Paris to urge the French revolutionary youth to go over to the patriotic position. These young bureaucrats organized within the socialist party a special Stalinist fraction whose main slogan is: “Expel the Trotskyists!” Needless to add, that for this disruptive work the Stalinist clique did not and does not spare monetary resources: poor as it may be in ideas, it has no lack of currency.

But revolutionists do not capitulate in the face of terror. Just the contrary. They reply by redoubling the offensive. Stalinism is today the chief plague of the world working class movement.

This plague must be extirpated, excised, burned out with a hot iron. Once again the proletariat must be united under the banner of Marx and Lenin!

*  *  *

Dear comrades!

I have far from said everything I wanted to say to you, nor at all as I wanted to say it. But I am forced to hurry: at any moment the police official is scheduled to arrive who is to escort me and my wife, the faithful companion in my struggle and my wanderings, beyond the frontiers of France. I depart with a burning love for the French people and with an unwavering faith in the great future of the French proletariat but with an equal hatred toward the hypocrisy, greed and cruelty of French imperialism.

I firmly believe that the toiling people will sooner or later offer me that hospitality which the bourgeoisie today refuses. I would consider it the greatest boon if in the near future the French proletariat were to offer me the opportunity to participate in its decisive struggles. Working men and working women of France! So long as I am physically able, I am ready at any moment by word and action to answer your revolutionary call.

Allow me, then, to shake your hands warmly as a comrade, and to close this letter with that cry which in the course of some forty years has guided my thoughts and actions:

Long live the world proletarian revolution!

June 10, 1935

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Last updated on: 18.4.2007