Leon Trotsky

On the Seventh Congress
of the Comintern

(September 1935)

Written: 1935.
First Published: New International, Vol.2 No.6, October 1935, pp.177-179.
Translated: By New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
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.

1. The Stalinist Turn

I OWE AN apology to the readers of our international press for not having commented upon the Seventh Congress prior to now, despite several reminders. The causes for this lie beyond mycontrol. On the one hand, the debates at the Congress were extremely amorphous and intentionally diffuse and, on the other hand, they were purely theatrical in character. The questions were discussed and settled behind the scenes, often over the telephone connecting the Kremlin with the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. There was some semblance of a conflict of opinions within the narrow bureaucratic circle. However, once the decision was finally reached by the Politisal Bureau, orators were appointed who were instructed to present the decision in such a manner as would least compromise the upper crust of the Communist International, and, in any case, cast not the slightest shaddow upon the infallibility of the Leader. What passed for “discussion” at the Congress amounts, in fact, to a long and, one must add, a frightfully boring comedy, with roles cast beforehand. Besides, the actors are rotten.

For this reason, the reports of the discussions must be scrutinized in the same manner as one goes over diplomatic documents, asking at every step the questions: What has the orator really in mind? what is he slurring over? and why? But diplomatic documents are usually worded succinctly; the speeches of the reporters at the Congress, however, are inordinately long. The wearisome scope of the reports provides an added measure of bureaucratic self-insurance: it is necessary to let loose the greatest possible number of the least precise assertions possible, without getting embarrassed over their contradictory nature. One never can tell precisely which of these assertions will come in handy in the future. Then, add to this the frightfully had newspaper accounts. Where clear thinking and a political will obtain, when an open ideological struggle takes place, which is always an aid to precision of thought, the form of presentation can be clear, good, and convincing; but when a functionary-orator is busy covering up his own tracks, and those of his superiors, and when the functionary-journalist retails the muddled speech, in constant panic lest he run foul of a submarine reef, then the newspaper reports inevitably amount to a miserable hash of generalities pooidy strung together. Such are the reports in L’Humauitè which I have had to use up to now. When, for instance, I sought on the basis of these reports to determine even approximately what the working class movement in Japan amounts to, under the conditions of the present day Far East crisis, and the rôle played in it by the Communist party of Japan, I was able to establish conclusively only one fact, namely that in Japanese the impassioned love for the Leader is expressed by the word, “Banzai!”, but I was already equipped with this piece of information, since it is proper to yell “Banzai!” in honor of the Mikado as well. Incidentally, at the Congress, Stalin scintillated in silence, also after Mikado’s fashion.

The so-called “discussions” revolved around two questions: the policy of the “united front” (today, that is the only policy in existence) against Fascism, and the self-same policy against war. The speeches of the reporters, the fulsome and flat report of Dimitroff as well as jesuitical sophistry of Ercoli, added nothing to those assevorations which during the recent months flooded the press of the Communist International, particularly in France. The experience of the French Communist party occupied the center of the stage, and it was boosted as an exemplar worthy of emulation. But it was precisely upon the basic questions before the Congress that the organizations of the Fourth International had already expressed themselves quite adequately. In the light of the debates at Moscow, we, the revolutionary Marxists, do not have to change a single Cue in all we have hitherto said on the questions of war, Fascism, the “united front” and the “people’s front”.

This does not at all mean to say that we can disregard the Seventh Congress. Far from it! Whether the debates be brimful of meaning or hollow, the Congress itself represents a stage in the evolution of a certain section of the working class. It is important if only for the fact that by legalizing the opportunistic turn in France, it immediately transplants it to the rest of the world. We have a curious specimen of bureaucratic thinking in that while granting, on paper at any rate, a liberal autonomy to all sections, and while even issuing instructions to them to do independent thinking and adapt themselves to their own national conditions, the Congress, immediately thereupon, proclaimed that all countries in the world, Fascist Germany as well as democratic Norway, Great Britain as well as India, Greece as well as China, are equally in need of the “people’s front”, and, wherever possible, of a government of the people’s front. The Congress is important because it marks – after a period of acillation and fumbling – the final entry of the Communist International into its “Fourth Period” which has for its slogan – ”Power to Daladier!” for its banner – tricolor: for its hymn – the Marseillaise, drowning out the International

In any case, the resolutions would have provided a great deal more than the verbose discussions toward the appraisal of the depth of the turn and its concrete content pertaining to conditions in different countries. The drafts of the resolutions, however, were not puhlished beforehand upon a single one of the questions that were discussed. The discussions did not take place around definitive documents, but seeped over an illimitable expanse. The special committee busied itself with drafting the resolutions, only after all the orators had bellowed praise to the Leader, and began packing their bags. It is an unprecedented fact: the official Congress adjourned without arriving at any decisions. This job has been left to the new leaders, appointed prior to the Congress (Dimitroff!), who are to take into consideration, in so far as possible, the moods and wishes of the honorable delegates. Thus, the very mechanics of this Congress made it extremely difficult to give any sort of a timely critical evaluation of its labors. Today, at any rate, the principal material of the Congress has been published, and thus there is, at last, a possibility to draw up its theoretic and political balances. I will try to fulfill this task as soon as possible in a special pamphlet, or a series of articles. At this tune, I should like to sketch out in advance a few political conclusions in connection with the turn of the Communist International which was sealed at the Congress.

It would he a fatal mistake on our part to think that the theory and practise of the “Third Period” has been entirely and painlessly liquidated by the “self-criticism” of the leaders, and that the opportunistic and patriotic turn is guaranteed a cloudless future. While the bureaucracy has consigned to the flames all it so highly revered with such scandalous ease, it is otherwise with the masses. Their attitude towards slogans is more serious and genuine. The moods of the “Third Period” are still entirely alive in the consciousness of those workers who follow the Communist International. And precisely these moods were in evidence among the French communists in Toulon and Brest. The leaders were able to curb the opposition of the rank and file for a time only by giving ’secret” assurances on their oath that here was involved a cunning mancruvre aimed to hoodwink the Radicals and the socialists, take away the masses from them, and then ... “then we will show ourselves for what we are”. On the other hand, the pro-coalition and patriotic turn of the communist party is attracting to it the sympathy of new strata considerably removed from the working class, those who are very patriotic and very much dissatisfied with the financial decrees and who see in the communist party only the most energetic wing of the People’s Front. This means that inside the communist party and on its periphery there are accumulating to an increasing degree contradictory tendencies, which must lead to an explosion, or a series of explosions. From this there flows the duty for the organizations of the Fourth International to follow most attentively the internal life of the communist parties in order to support the revolutionary proletarian tendency against the leading social-patriotic faction, which will henceforth become more and more enmeshed in the attempts of class collaboration.

Our second conclusion touches upon Centrist groupings and their relation to the strategic turn of the Communist International. The Right-Centrist elements will be inevitably attracted by this turn, as by a magnet. One need only read the theses on war by Otto Baner, Zyromski, and the Russian Menshevik, Dan, to see clearly that it is precisely these consummate representatives of the golden mean who have expressed the very essence of the Comintern’s new policy better than Dimitroff and Ercoli. But not they alone. The field of the magnetic attraction also extends further to the Left. The Neue Front, the organ of the SAP, in its last two issues (6 and 17), while screening itself behind a pile of cautious qualifications and warnings, hails in essence the opportunistic turn of the Communist International, as its emancipation from sectarian ossification, and its transition to the road of “more realistic” policy. How ill-judged are all the discussions on the subject that the SAP is supposedly in agreement with us on all the principled questions, but merely disapproves of our ’methods”. In reality, every major question reveals the incongruity between their principled position and ours. The impending war danger impelled the SAP to advance immediately, as against our slogans, the demoralizing slogan of “disarmament” which is rejected even by Otto Bauer, Zyromski and Dan as “unrealistic”. The self-same clash of positions became manifest in the evaluation of the evolution of the Communist International. In the very heat of the “Third Period” we forecasted with absolute precision that this paroxysm of ultra-Leftism would lead inevitably to a new opportunistic zigzag, immeasurably more profound and fatal than all those preceding. In the days when the Communist International still played with all the rainbow colors of “revolutionary defeatism”, we warned that from the theory of “socialism in a single country” there would flow inevitably social-patriotic conclusions with all their treacherous consequences. The Seventh Congress of the Comintern provided a truly remarkable confirmation of the Marxian prognosis. And what happened? The leaders of the SAP, who have forgotten everything and learned nothing, hail the new and severest stage of an incurable disease, discovering in in symptoms ... of a realistic convalescence. Isn’t it clear that we have two irreconcilable positions before us?

From the above-indicated point of view, it is in the highest degree interesting what will be the precise reaction to the Seventh Congress of that Left-Centrist party which has been hitherto closest to the Communist International, namely, the ILP of England. Will it be attracted by the vile “realism” of the Seventh Congress (”united front”, “masses”, “middle classes”, etc., etc.) or will it, on the contrary, be repelled by the belated and all the more fatal opportunism (class collaboration under the hollow banner of “anti-Fascism”, social-patriotism under the cover of the “defense of the USSR”, etc.)? The future fate of the ILP hinges upon this alternative.

One may say, in general, that regardless of the isolated partial stages and episodes, the turn of the Communist International sealed by the Congress simplifies the situation in the working class movement. It consolidates the social-patriotic camp, bringing closer the parties of the Second and Third Internationals, regardless how matters proceed with organizational unity. It strengthens the centrifugal tendencies within the Centrist groupings. To the revolutionary internationalists, i.e., the builders of the Fourth International, it opens up all the greater possibilities.

September 7, 1935

2. Russia and the World Proletariat

THE RESOLUTION on Dimitroff’s report on Fascism is finally here. It is just as longwinded and diffuse as the report itself. Here we will deal only with the first sentence of the first paragraph of the resolution which takes up a bare dozen newspaper lines of l’Humanité, but at the same time constitutes the corner: stone of the whole theoretical and strategical structure of the so-called Communist International. Let us examine a little closer what this dornerstone is like. We quote this first sentence literally: “The final, irrevocable victory of socialism in the land of the Soviets, a victory of world-historical significance which has enormously enhanced the power and the importance of the Soviet Union as the rampart of the exploited and oppressed of the entire world and has inspired the toilers to the struggle against capitalist exploitation, bourgeois reaction and Fascism, and for peace, freedom and the independence of the peoples.” The assertions contained in this sentence, however categorical they may sound, are false to the core. ’What is the “final, irrevocable victory of socialism in the land of the Soviets” supposed to mean? No official theoretician has tried to explain it to us. The resolution too spares itself the slightest hint of the criteria upon which this assertion is based. We must therefore call to mind all over again the ABC of Marxism. The victory of socialism, especially the “final, irrevocable” one, can only consist in this, that the average productivity of every member of the socialist society is higher, even substantially higher, than that of a capitalist worker. Even the most daring Comintern theoretician will not venture such an assertion with regard to the USSR. We hope to establish statistically in the near future the still very great backwardness of the Soviet Union with respect to both the national and individual incomes. Our present task requires no such proof. The fact that the Soviet government must needs hold fast to the monopoly of foreign trade, represents a sufficient confirmation of the existing backwardness despite all the successes of Soviet economy. For, if the costs of production in the country were lower than the capitalist costs, the monopoly of foreign trade would be superfluous. The latest reform of foreign trade, interpreted by many all-too-superficial observers as a surrender of the foreign trade monopoly, is in reality only a technico-bureaucratic reform, which does not in the least infringe upon the basic pillars of the monopoly. Since, on the other hand, the Soviet bureaucracy bases itself upon the nationalized means of production since the introduction of the Five Year Plan and the collectivization, and on the other hand, the Soviet product is still much dearer than the capitalistic, the Soviet bureaucracy, for the sake of its own preservation, cannot abandon the foreign trade monopoly. This decisive fact – the low productivity of labor power in the Soviet Union – gives the key which puts us in a position to open up all the other secrets.

If the per capita national income were calculated in the USSR approximately as high as in the United States of America, and if the bureaucracy were not to squander unproductively and consume parasitically a much too large part of it, then the standard of living of the population would have to be incomparably higher than in the capitalist countries, the United States included. But that is not the case in the slightest degree. The Russian peasant, that is, the overwhelming mass of the population, still lives in deep poverty. Even the position of the majority of the industrial proletariat has not yet attained the American, nor even the European level. The honest establishment of this fact naturally says nothing, in any respect, against the socialist mode of production, for in the case of capitalism we are dealing with a decomposing system and in the case of socialism with one which is just in its incipiency. We ought not, however, content ourself with the general tendencies of development, but must characterize quite accurately the stage attained, else we lose ourselves in meaningless commonplaces.

If the socialist society gave its members a half-way assured well-being with the perspective of an uninterrupted improvement of the position of everyone, then the burning worries about individual existence would begin to vanish, covetousness, anxiety and envy would make their appearance merely as increasingly rare remnants of the old state of affairs, economic solidarity would pass from a principle into the daily customs. That this is not the case in the least, hardly needs to be proved: the creation of a semiprivileged labor aristocracy under the fully-privileged Soviet bureaucracy; the endeavors to translate all relationships of man to man into the language of money; the draconic laws for the protection of state property; finally the truly barbaric law against “criminal” children, all these prove in the most striking, the most irrefutable manner that socialism has yet been far from ’irrevocably” assured in that field which is decisive precisely for socialism: in the consciousness of the people.

If socialism has “finally, irrevocably” triumphed, as the resolutution dares to assert, then why does the political dictatorship continue to exist? Still more, why does it congeal with every passing day into a bureaucratic-Bonepartist r.gime of insufferable harshness, arbitrariness and rottenness? A guaranteed, an “irrevocably” rooted socialism cannot possibly require an omnipotent bureaucracy, with an absolute ruler on top of it, for the dictatorship in general is after all nothing but a state means of preserving and protecting the menaced and not the assured foundations of the socialist state. The intrepid attempt of many ’theoreticians” to refer to external dangers, is much too absurd to be taken seriously. A society whose socialist structure is assured, whose internal relations thus repose upon the solidarity of the overwhelming mass, does not require an internal dictatorship for protection from external foes, but only a techhnico-inilitary apparatus, just as it requires a technico-economic apparatus for its welfare.

Also the fear of war in which the Soviet bureaucracy lives and which determines its whole international policy, can only be explained by the fact that the socialist construction, upon which the Soviet bureaucracy bases itself, is, historically speaking, not yet assured. The struggle of the workers’ state against an imperilling capitalism is – at least it should be – a component part of the class struggle of the international working class. War thus has – at least it should have – the same significance for the workers’ state as revolution has for the proletariat of the capitalist countries. We are of course against any “premature”, artificially evoked revolution, because, given an unfavorable relation of forces, it can lead only to defeat. The same holds true of war. A workers’ state should avert it only if it is “premature”, that is, if socialism is not yet finally and irrevocably assured. The current view that, internally, socialism is assured but that it may be crushed by military force, is senseless: an economic system which effects a higher productivity of human labor, cannot be overthrown by military measures. The victory of the semi-feudal European coalition over Napoleon did not lead to the destruction of the capitalist development of France but to its acceleration in the rest of Europe. History teaches that the victors-should they be situated on a lower economic and cultural plan than the vanquished-take over the latter’s technique, social relationships and culture. It is not military force as such that menaces Soviet socialism, but cheap commodities which would follow on the heels of the victorious capitalist armies. Moreover, if socialism were really assured in the Soviet Union in the above-described manner, that is, higher technique, higher productivity, higher well-being of the whole population, higher solidarity, there could be no possible talk of a military victory of the internally torn capitalist states over the Soviet Union.

We thus see how thoroughly false is the most important, the really decisive contention of the Seventh World Congress. Revolutionary Marxists should have said: the technical successes in the USSR are very significant; the economic successes lag behind. To guarantee even that “well-being” which obtains in the advanced capitalist countries and to reeducate the population, many years are still required, even if one disregards the internal contradictions and the increasingly destructive rôle of the Soviet bureaucracy, that is, two factors which are, by themselves, capable of exploding into the air the not yet assured social achievements. The decomposition of capitalism, the thrust of Fascism, the growing war danger, all these processes stride forward much more rapidly than the construction of socialism in the USSR. Only narrow-minded fakers and bureaucratic pietists can think that this candid and honest putting of the question will dampen the “enthusiasm” of the international working class. Revolutionary enthusiasm cannot be permanently nurtured on lies. But lies form the basic pillar of the strategical system of the Comintern. Socialism is irrevocably assured in the USSR, on one-sixth of the world’s surface, if only the world proletariat will help along to leave the Soviet state in peace. Thus the slogan is, not preparation for the international revolution, but the assurance of peace. Thence the alliance with the “friends of peace”, the substitution of class collaboration for class struggle, the creation of the People’s Front with the Radical parties of finance capital, etc., etc. All these means are, already in themselves, incapable of prolonging the peace, to say nothing of assuring it. Yet the whole peace program of the Comintern is strategically built upon the premise of an internally “assured” socialism. With this premise, the Seventh World Congress stands and falls, and it is, as indicated above, irrevocably false.

September 14, 1935

History of the Communist International

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Last updated on: 18.4.2007