Leon Trotsky

ILP and
the Fourth International

In the Middle of the Road

(18 September 1935)

Source: New International, Vol. 2 No. 7, December 1935, pp. 215–220.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive (31 July 2006).

IF WE WERE to leave aside the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Holland which stands under the banner of the Fourth International, we could assuredly say that the ILP of Britain stands on the left wing of the parties that adhere to the London-Amsterdam Bureau. In contrast to the SAP which has shifted recently to the right, to the side of crassest petty-bourgeois pacifism, the ILP has indubitably undergone a serious evolution to the left. This became definitely revealed by Mussolini’s predatory assault upon Ethiopia. On the question of the League of Nations, on the role played in it by British imperialism, and on the “peaceful” policy of the Labour Party, the New Leader has perhaps carried the best articles in the entire labor press. But a single swallow does not make a spring, nor do a few excellent articles determine as yet the policy of a party. It is comparatively easy to take a “revolutionary” position on the question of war; but it is extremely difficult to draw from this position all the necessary theoretical and practical conclusions. Yet, this is precisely the task.

Compromised by the experience of 1914–18, social-patriotism has found today a new source to feed from, namely Stalinism. Thanks to this, bourgeois chauvinism obtains the opportunity to unleash a rabid attack against the revolutionary internationalists. The vacillating elements, the so-called Centrists, will capitulate inevitably to the onset of chauvinism on the eve of the war, or the moment it breaks out. To be sure, they will take cover behind the argument from “unity”, the need not to break away from mass organizations, and so on. The formulas of hypocrisy are quite diversified, which supply the Centrists with a screen for their cowardice in the face of bourgeois public opinion, but they all serve the self-same purpose: to cover up the capitulation. “Unity” with the social-patriots – not a temporary co-existence with them in a common organization with a view to waging a struggle against them, but unity as a principle – is unity with one’s own imperialism, and consequently, an open split with the proletariat of other nations. The Centrist principle of unity at any price prepares for the most malignant split possible, along the lines of imperialist contradictions. Even today, we can observe in France the Spartacus group, which translates into the French language the ideas of the SAP, advocating, in the name of “unity” with the masses, the political capitulation to Blum who was and who remains the chief agent of French imperialism within the working class.

After its split with the Labour Party, the ILP came into close contact with the British Communist party, and through it, with the Communist International. The acute financial difficulties under which the New Leader labors right now indicate that the ILP was able to preserve complete financial independence from the Soviet bureaucracy, and its methods of corruption. This can only be a source of gratification. Nevertheless, the connection with the Communist party did not pass without leaving a trace: despite its name, the ILP did not become really independent but turned into a sort of appendage to the Communist International. It did not pay the necessary attention to mass work, which cannot be carried on outside of the trade unions and the Labour Party; instead it became seduced by the Amsterdam-Pleyel masquerade, the Anti-Imperialist League, and other surrogates for revolutionary activity. As a result, it appeared to the workers to be a second grade Communist party. So disadvantageous a position for the ILP did not arise accidentally: it was conditioned by its lack of a firm principled basis. It is a secret to nobody that Stalinism long overawed the leaders of the ILP with those rubber-stamp formulas which comprise the miserable bureaucratic falsification of Leninism. More than two years ago the writer of this article sought to arrive at an understanding with the leaders of the ILP by means of several articles, and in letters; the attempt was barren of results: during that period, our criticism of the Communist International seemed to the leaders of the ILP to be “preconceived”, and “factionally”, perhaps even “personally” motivated. Nothing remained except to yield the floor to time. For the ILP, the last two years have been scanty in successes, but bountiful in experience. The social-patriotic degeneration of the Communist International, the direct consequence of the theory and practice of “socialism in one country”, was turned from a forecast into a living, incontestable fact. Have the leaders of the ILP fully plumbed the meaning of this fact? Are they ready and able to draw all the necessary conclusions from it? The future of the ILP depends upon the answer to these questions.

From pacifism towards proletarian revolution – such has indubitably been the general tendency of the evolution of the ILP. But this development has far from reached a rounded-out program as yet. Worse yet: not uninfluenced by the hoary and expert opportunistic combinations of the German SAP, the leaders of the ILP have apparently halted in the midway, and keep marking time.

In the following critical lines, we intend to dwell primarily upon two questions: the attitude of the ILP toward the general strike in connection with the struggle against War, and the position of the ILP on the question of the International. In the latter as well as the former question there are to be found elements of a half-way attitude: on the question of the general strike this hesitancy assumes the guise of irresponsible radical phraseology; on the question of the International hesitancy pulls up short of the radical decision. And yet Marxism, and Leninism as the direct continuation of its doctrine, is absolutely irreconcilable both with an inclination to radical phraseology, and with the dread of radical decisions.

The Various Categories of the General Strike

The question of the general strike has a long and rich history, in theory as well as practice. Yet the leaders of the ILP behave as if they were the first to run across the idea of general strike, as a method to stop war. In this is their greatest error. Improvisation is impermissible precisely on the question of the general strike. The world experience of the struggle during the last forty years has been fundamentally a confirmation of what Engels had to say about the general strike towards the close of the last century, primarily on the basis of the experience of the Chartists, and in part of the Belgians. Cautioning the Austrian social democrats against much too. flighty an attitude towards the general strike, Engels wrote to Kautsky, on November 3, 1893, as follows:

“You yourself remark that the barricades have become antiquated (they may, however, prove useful again should the army turn 1/3 or 2/5 socialist and the question arise of providing it with the opportunity to turn its bayonets), but the political strike must either prove victorious immediately by the threat alone (as in Belgium, where the army was very shaky), or it must end in a colossal fiasco, or, finally, lead directly to the barricades.”

These terse lines provide, incidentally, a remarkable exposition of Engels’ views on a number of questions. Innumerable controversies raged over Engels’ famous introduction to Marx’s The Class Struggle in France (1896), an introduction which was in its time modified and cut in Germany with a view to censorship. Philistines of every stripe have asserted hundreds and thousands of times during the last forty years that “Engels himself” had apparently rejected once and for all the ancient “romantic” methods of street fighting. But there is no need of referring to the past: one need only read the contemporary and inordinately ignorant and mawkish discourses of Paul Faure, Lebas and others on this subject, who are of the opinion that the very question of armed insurrection is “Blanquism”. Concurrently, if Engels rejected anything, it was first of all, putsches, i.e. untimely flurries of a small minority; and secondly, antiquated methods, that is to say, forms and methods of street fighting which did not correspond to the new technological conditions. In the above quoted letter, Engels corrects Kautsky, in passing, as if he were referring to something self-evident: barricades have become “antiquated”only in the sense that the bourgeois revolution has receded into the past, and the time for the socialist barricades has not come as yet. It is necessary for the army, one third, or better still, two fifths of it (these ratios, of course, are given only for the sake of illustration), to become imbued with sympathy for socialism; then the insurrection would not be a “putsch”, then the barricades would once again come into their own – not the barricades of the year 1848, to be sure, but the new “barricades”, serving, however, the self-same goal: to check the offensive of the army against the workers, give the soldiers the opportunity and the time to sense the power of the uprising, and by this to create the most advantageous conditions for the army’s passing over to the side of the insurrectionists. How far removed are these lines of Engels – not the youth, but the man 73 years of age! – from the asinine and reactionary attitude to the barricade, as a piece of “romanticism”! Kautsky has found the leisure to publish this remarkable letter just recently, in 1936! Without engaging in a direct polemic with Engels, whom he never understood fully, Kautsky tells us smugly, in a special note, that toward the end of 1893, he had himself published an article in which he “developed the advantages of the democratic-proletarian method of struggle in democratic countries as against the policy of violence”. These remarks about “advantages” (as if the proletariat has the freedom of choice!) have a particularly choice ring in our day, after the policies of the Weimar democracy, not without Kautsky’s co-operation, have fully revealed all their ... disadvantages. To leave no room for doubt as to his own attitude on Engels’ views, Kautsky goes on to add, “I defended then the self-same policy I defend today.” In order to defend “the self-same policy” Kautsky needed only to become a citizen of Czecho-Slovakia: outside of the passport, nothing has changed.

But let us return to Engels. He differentiates, as we have seen, between three cases in relation to the political strike:

(1) The government takes fright at the general strike, and at the very outset, without carrying matters to an open clash, takes to concessions. Engels points to the “shaky” condition of the army in Belgium as the basic condition for the success of the Belgian general strike (1893). A somewhat similar situation, but on a much more colossal scale, occurred in Russia, October 1905. After the miserable outcome of the Russo-Japanese War, the Czarist army was, or, at any rate, seemed extremely unreliable. The Petersburg government, thrown into a mortal panic by the strike, made the first constitutional concessions (Manifesto, October 17, 1905).

It is all too evident, however, that without resorting to decisive battles, the ruling class will make only such concessions as will not touch the basis of its rule. That is precisely how matters stood in Belgium and Russia. Are such cases possible in the future? They are inevitable in the countries of the Orient. They are, generally speaking, less probable in the countries of the West, although, here too, they are quite possible as partial episodes of the unfolding revolution.

(2) If the army is sufficiently reliable, and the government feels sure of itself; if a political strike is promulgated from above, and if, at the same time, it is calculated not for decisive battles, but to “frighten” the enemy, then it can easily turn out a mere adventure, and reveal its utter impotence. To this we ought to add that after the initial experiences of the general strike, the novelty of which Reacted upon the imagination of the popular masses as well as governments, several decades have elapsed – discounting the half-forgotten Chartists – in the course of which the strategists of capital have accumulated an enormous experience. That is why a general strike, particularly in the old capitalist countries, requires a painstaking Marxist accounting of all the concrete circumstances.

(3) Finally, there remains a general strike which, as Engels put it, “leads directly to the barricades”. A strike of this sort can result either in complete victory or defeat. But to shy away from battle, when the battle is forced by the objective situation, is to lead inevitably to the most fatal and demoralizing of all possible defeats. The outcome of a revolutionary, insurrectionary general strike depends, of course, upon the relationship of forces, covering a great number of factors: the class differentiation of society, the specific weight of the proletariat, the mood of the lower layers of the petty-bourgeoisie, the social composition and the political mood of the army, etc. However, among the conditions for victory, far from the last place is occupied by the correct revolutionary leadership, a clear understanding of conditions and methods of the general strike and its transition to open revolutionary struggle.

Engels’ classification must not, of course, be taken dogmatically. In present day France not partial concessions but power is indubitably in question: the revolutionary proletariat or Fascism – which? The working class masses want to struggle. But the leadership applies the brakes, hoodwinks and demoralizes the workers. A general strike can flare up just as the movements flared in Toulon and Brest. Under these conditions, independently of its immediate results, a general strike will not of course be a “putsch” but a necessary stage in the mass struggle, the necessary means for casting off the treachery of the leadership and for creating within the working class itself the preliminary conditions for a victorious uprising. In this sense the policy of the French Bolshevik-Leninists is entirely correct, who have advanced the slogan of general strike, and who explain the conditions for its victory. The French cousins of the SAP come out against this slogan, the Spartacists who at the beginning of the struggle are already assuming the role of strikebreakers.

We should also add that Engels did not point out another “category” of general strike, exemplars of which have been provided in England, Belgium, France and some other countries: we refer here to cases in which the leadership of the strike previously, i.e. without a struggle, arrives at an agreement with the class enemy as to the course and outcome of the strike. The parliamentarians and the trade unionists perceive at a given moment the need to provide an outlet for the accumulated ire of the masses, or they are simply compelled to jump in step with a movement that has flared over their heads. In such cases they come scurrying through the backstairs to the Government and obtain the permission to head the general strike, this with the obligation to conclude it as soon as possible, without any damage being done to the state crockery. Sometimes, far from always, they manage to haggle beforehand some petty concessions, to serve them as figleaves. Thus did the General Council of British Trade Unions (TUC) in 1926. Thus did Jouhaux in 1934. Thus will they act in the future also. The exposure of these contemptible machinations behind the backs of the struggling proletariat enters as a necessary part into the preparation of a general strike.

The General Strike as a Means “To Stop War”

To which type does a general strike belong which is specially intended by the ILP in the event of mobilization, as a means to stop war at the very outset? [1] We want to say beforehand: it pertains to the most inconsidered and unfortunate of all types possible. This does not mean to say that the revolution can never coincide with mobilization or with the outbreak of war. If a wide-scale revolutionary movement is developing in a country, if at its head is a revolutionary party possessing the confidence of the masses and capable of going through to the end; if the government, losing its head, despite the revolutionary crisis, or just because of such a crisis, plunges headlong into a war adventure – then the mobilization can act as a mighty impetus for the masses, lead to a general strike of railwaymen, fraternization between the mobilized and the workers, seizure of important key centers, clashes between insurrectionists and the police and the reactionary sections of the army, the establishment of local, workers’ and soldiers’ councils, and, finally, to the complete overthrow of the government, and consequently, to stopping the war. Such a case is theoretically possible. If, in the words of Clausewitz, “war is the continuation of politics by other means”, then the struggle against war is also the continuation of the entire preceding policy of a revolutionary class and its party. Hence follows that a general strike can be put on the order of the day as a method of struggle against mobilization and war only in the event that the entire preceding developments in the country have placed revolution and armed insurrection on the order of the day. Taken, however, as a “special” method of struggle against mobilization, a general strike would be a sheer adventure. Excluding a possible but nevertheless an exceptional case of a government plunging into war in order to escape from a revolution that directly threatens it, it must remain, as a general rule, that precisely prior to, during, and after mobilization the government feels itself strongest, and, consequently, least inclined to allow itself to be scared by a general strike. The patriotic moods that accompany mobilization, together with the war terror make hopeless the very execution of a general strike, as a rule. The most intrepid elements who, without taking the circumstances into account, plunge into the struggle, would be crushed. The defeat, and the partial annihilation of the vanguard would make difficult for a long time revolutionary work in the atmosphere of dissatisfaction that war breeds. A strike called artificially must turn inevitably into a putsch, and into an obstacle in the path of the revolution.

In its theses accepted in April, 1935, the ILP writes as follows:

“The policy of the party aims at the use of a general strike to stop war and at social revolution should war occur.”

An astonishingly precise, but – sad to say, absolutely fictitious obligation! The general strike is not only separated here from the social revolution but also counterposed to it as a specific method to “stop war”. This is an ancient conception of the anarchists which life itself smashed long ago. A general strike without a victorious insurrection cannot “stop war”. If, under the conditions of mobilization, the insurrection is impossible, then so is a general strike impossible. In an ensuing paragraph we read:

“The ILP will urge a General Strike against the British Government, if this country is in any way involved in an attack on the Soviet Union ...”

If it is possible to forestall any war by a general strike, then of course it is all the more necessary to stop war against the USSR. But here we enter into the realm of illusions: to inscribe in the theses, a general strike as punishment for a given capital crime of the Government is to commit the sin of revolutionary phrase-mongering. If it were possible to call a general strike at will, then it would be best called today to prevent the British Government from strangling India and from collaborating with Japan to strangle China. The leaders of the ILP will of course tell us that they have not the power to do so. But nothing gives them the right to promise that they will apparently have the power to call a general strike on the day of mobilization. And if they be able, why confine it to a strike? As a matter of fact, the conduct of a party during mobilization will flow from its preceding successes and from the situation in the country as a whole. But the aim of revolutionary policy should not be an isolated general strike, as a special means to “stop war”, but the proletarian revolution into which a general strike will enter as an inevitable or a very probable integral part.

The ILP and the International

The ILP split from the Labour Party chiefly for the sake of keeping the independence of its parliamentary fraction. We do not intend here to discuss whether the split was correct at the given moment, and whether the ILP gleaned from it the expected advantages. We don’t think so. But it remains a fact that for every revolutionary organization in England its attitude to the masses and to the class is almost coincident with its attitude toward the Labour Party, which bases itself upon the trade unions. At this time the question whether to function inside the Labour Party or outside it is not a principled question, but a question of actual possibilities. In any case, without a strong faction in the trade unions, and, consequently, in the Labour Party itself, the ILP is doomed to impotence even today. Yet, for a long period, the ILP attached much greater importance to the “united front” with the insignificant Communist party than to work in mass organizations. The leaders of the ILP consider the policy of the Opposition wing in the Labour Party incorrect out of considerations which are absolutely unexpected: although

“they (the Opposition) criticise the leadership and policy of the Party but, owing to the block vote and the form of organization of the Party, they cannot change the personnel and policy of the Executive and Parliamentary Party within the period necessary to resist Capitalist Reaction, Fascism and War.” (p. 8)

The policy of the Opposition in the Labour Party is unspeakably bad. But this only means that it is necessary to counterpose to it inside the Labour Party another, a correct Marxist policy. That isn’t so easy? Of course not! But one must know how to hide one’s activities from the police vigilance of Sir Walter Citrine and his agents, until the proper time. But isn’t it a fact that a Marxist faction would not succeed in changing the structure and policy of the Labour Party? With this we are entirely in accord: the bureaucracy will not surrender. But the revolutionists, functioning outside and inside, can and must succeed in winning over tens and hundreds of thousands of workers. The criticism directed by the ILP against the left wing faction in the Labour Party is of an obviously artificial character. One would have much more reason for saying that the tiny ILP, by involving itself with the compromised Communist party and thus drawing away from the mass organizations, hasn’t a chance to become a mass party “within the period necessary to resist Capitalist Reaction, Fascism and War.”

Thus, the ILP considers it necessary for a revolutionary organization to exist independently, within the national framework even at the present time. Marxist logic, it would seem, demands that this consideration be applied to the international arena as well. A struggle against war and for the revolution is unthinkable without the International. The ILP deems it necessary for it to exist side by side with the Communist party, and consequently, against the Communist party, and by this very fact it recognizes the need of creating against the Communist International – a New International. Yet the ILP dares not draw this conclusion. Why?

If in the opinion of the ILP the Comintern could be reformed, it would be its duty to join its ranks, and work for this reform. If, however, the ILP has become convinced that the Comintern is incorrigible, it is its duty to join with us in the struggle for the Fourth International. The ILP does neither. It halts midway. It is bent on maintaining a “friendly collaboration” with the Communist International. If it is invited to the next Congress of the Communist International – such is the literal wording of its April theses of this year! – it will there fight for its position and in the interests of the “unity of revolutionary socialism”. Evidently, the ILP expected to be “invited” to the International. This means that its psychology in relation to the International, is that of a guest, and not of a host. But the Comintern did not invite the ILP What to do, now?

It is necessary to understand first of all that really independent workers’ parties – independent not only of the bourgeoisie, but also of both bankrupt Internationals – cannot be built unless there is a close international bond between them, on the basis of self-same principles, and provided there is a living interchange of experience, and vigilant mutual control. The notion that national parties (which ones? on what basis?) must be established first, and coalesced only later into a new International (how will a common principled basis then be guaranteed?) is a caricature echo of the history of the Second International: the First and Third Internationals were both built differently. But, today, under the conditions of the imperialist epoch, after the proletarian vanguard of all countries in the world has passed through many decades of a colossal and common experience, including the experience of the collapse of the two Internationals, it is absolutely unthinkable to build new Marxist, revolutionary parties, without direct contact with the self-same work in other countries. And this means the building of the Fourth International.

The “International Bureau of Revolutionary Socialist Unity” (IAG)

To be sure, the ILP has in reserve a certain international association, namely, the London Bureau (IAG). Is this the beginning of a new International? Emphatically, no! The ILP comes out against “split” more decisively than any other participant: not for nothing has the bureau of those organizations who themselves split away inscribed on its banner ... “unity”. Unity with whom? The ILP itself yearns exceedingly to see all revolutionary-socialist organizations and all sections of the Communist International united in a single International, and that this International have a good program. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The position of the ILP is all the more helpless since nobody else shares it inside of the London association itself. On the other hand, the Communist International, having drawn social-patriotic conclusions from the theory of socialism in one country, seeks today an alliance with powerful reformist organizations, and not at all with weak revolutionary groups. The April theses of the ILP console us:

“... but they (i.e. the other organizations in the London association) agree that the question of a new International is now theoretical (!), and that the form (!) which the reconstructed International will take will depend upon historical events (!) and the development of the actual working class struggle.” (p. 20)

Remarkable reasoning! The ILP urges the unity of the “revolutionary-socialist organizations” with the sections of the Communist International; but there is not and there cannot be any desire on the part of either for this unification. “But”, the ILP consoles itself, the revolutionary-socialist organizations are agreed upon ... what? Upon the fact that it is still impossible to foresee today what “form” the reconstructed International will take. For this reason, the very question of the International (“Workers of the World Unite!”) is declared to be “theoretical”. With equal justification one might proclaim the question of socialism to be theoretical, since it is unknown what form it will take; besides, it is impossible to achieve the socialist revolution by means of a “theoretical” International.

For the ILP, the question of a national party and the question of the International rest on two different planes. The danger of war and Fascism demands, as we were told, immediate work for the building of a national party. As regards the International, this question is ... “theoretical”. Opportunism reveals itself so clearly and incontestably in nothing else as in this principled counterposing of a national party to the International. The banner of “revolutionary-socialist unity” serves only as a cover for the yawning gap in the policy of the ILP Are we not justified in saying that the London association is a temporary haven for vacillators, waifs, and those who hope to be “invited” to one of the existing Internationals?

The ILP and the Communist International

While acknowledging that the Communist Party has a “revolutionary and theoretical basis”, the ILP discerns “sectarianism” in its conduct. This characterization is superficial, one-sided, and fundamentally false. Which “theoretical basis” has the ILP in mind? Is it Marx’s Das Kapital, Lenin’s Works, the resolutions of the first Congresses of the CI? – or the eclectic program of the Communist International accepted in 1928, the wretched theory of the “Third Period”, “social-Fascism”, and, finally, the latest social patriotic; avowals?

The leaders of the ILP make believe (at any rate, such was the case up to yesterday) that the Communist International has preserved the theoretical basis that was lodged by Lenin. In other words, they identify Leninism with Stalinism. To be sure, they are unable to make up their minds to say it in so many words. But, in their passing silently over the enormous critical struggle that took place first inside the Communist International, and then outside it; in their refusal to study the struggle waged by the “Left Opposition” (the Bolshevik-Leninists) and to determine upon their attitude towards it, the leaders of the ILP turn out to be backward provincials in the sphere of the questions of the world movement. In this they pay tribute to the worst traditions of the insular working class movement. As a matter of fact the Communist International has no theoretical basis. Indeed, what sort of theoretical basis can there be, when yesterday’s leaders, like Bukharin, are pronounced to be “bourgeois liberals”, when the leaders of the day before yesterday, like Zinoviev, are incarcerated in jail as “counter-revolutionists”, while the Manuilskys, Lozovskys, Dimitroffs together with Stalin himself never generally bothered much with questions of theory.

The remark in relation to “sectarianism” is no less erroneous. Bureaucratic Centrism which seeks to dominate the working class is not sectarianism but a specific refraction of the autocratic rule of the Soviet bureaucracy. Having burnt their fingers, these gentlemen are abjectly crawling today before reformism and patriotism. The leaders of the ILP took for gospel the assertion of the leaders of the SAP (poor counsellors!) that the Comintern would rest on the pinnacle, if not for its “ultra-left sectarianism”. In the meantime, the Seventh Congress has spurned the last remnants of “ultra-leftism”; but, as a result, the Communist International did not rise higher but fell still lower, losing all right to an independent political existence. Because the parties of the Second International are, in any case, more suitable for the policy of blocs with the bourgeoisie and for the patriotic corruption of workers: they have behind them an imposing opportunist record, and they arouse less suspicion on the part of bourgeois allies.

Aren’t the leaders of the ILP of the opinion that after the Seventh Congress they ought to reconsider radically their attitude toward the Communist International? If it is impossible to reform the Labour Party, then there are immeasurably less chances for reforming the Communist International. Nothing remains except to build the New International. True, in the ranks of the Communist parties quite a few honest revolutionary workers are still to be found. But they must be led out from the quagmire of the Comintern onto the revolutionary road.

The “Councils of Workers’ Deputies” and the New International

Both the revolutionary conquest of power and the dictatorship of the proletariat are included in the program of the ILP After the events in Germany, Austria and Spain, these slogans have become compulsory. But this does not at all mean that in every case they are invested with a genuine revolutionary content. The Zyromskis of all countries find no embarrassment in combining the “dictatorship of the proletariat” with the most debased patriotism, and besides, such fakery is becoming more and more fashionable. The leaders of the ILP are not social-patriots. But until they blow up their bridges to Stalinism, their internationalism will remain semi-platonic in character.

The April theses of the ILP enable us to approach the same question from a new standpoint. In the theses two special paragraphs (27 and 28) are devoted to the future British Councils of Workers’ Deputies. They contain nothing wrong. But it is necessary to point out that the Councils (Soviets) as such are only an organizational form and not at all a sort of immutable principle. Marx and Engels provided us with the theory of the proletarian revolution, partly in their analysis of the Paris Commune, but they did not have a single word to say about the Councils. In Russia there were Social-Revolutionary and Menshevik Soviets (Councils), i.e. anti-revolutionary Soviets. In Germany and Austria the Councils in 1918 were under the leadership of reformists and patriots and they played a counter-revolutionary role. In autumn 1923, in Germany, the role of the Councils was fulfilled actually by the shop committees that could have guaranteed fully the victory of the revolution were it not for the craven policy of the Communist party under the leadership of Brandler and Co. Thus, the slogan of Councils, as an organizational form, is not in itself of a principled character. We have no objection, of course, to the inclusion of Councils as “all-inclusive organizations” (p.11) in the program of the ILP Only, the slogan must not be turned into a fetish, or worse yet – into a hollow phrase, as in the hands of the French Stalinists (“Power to Daladier!” – “Soviets Everywhere!”).

But we are interested in another aspect of the question. Paragraph 28 of the theses reads,

“The Workers’ Councils will arise in their final form in the actual revolutionary crisis, but the Party must consistently prepare for their organization.” (our italics)

Keeping this in mind, let us compare the attitude of the ILP toward the future Councils with its own attitude toward the future International: the erroneousness of the ILP’s position will then stand before us in sharpest clarity. In relation to the International we are given generalities after the spirit of the SAP: “the form which the reconstructed International will take will depend upon historic events and the actual development of the working class struggle.” On this ground the ILP draws the conclusion that the question of the International is purely “theoretical”, i.e., in the language of empiricists, unreal. At the same time we are told that: “the Workers Councils will arise in their final form in the actual revolutionary crisis, but the Party must consistently prepare for their organization.” It is hard to become more hopelessly muddled. On the question of the Councils and on the question of the International, the ILP resorts to methods of reasoning that are directly contradictory. In which case is it mistaken? In both. The theses turn topsy-turvy the actual tasks of the party. The Councils represent an organisational form, and only a form. There is no way of “preparing for” Councils except by means of a correct revolutionary policy applied in all spheres of the working class movement: there is no special, specific “preparation for” Councils. It is entirely otherwise with the International. While the Councils can arise only under the condition that there is a revolutionary ferment among the many-millioned masses, the International is always necessary: both on holidays and weekdays, during periods of offensive as well as in retreat, in peace as well as in war. The International is not at all a “form” as flows from the utterly false formulation of the ILP. The International is first of all a program, and a system of strategic, tactical and organisational methods that flow from it. By dint of historic circumstances the question of the British Councils is deferred for an indeterminate period of time. But the question of the International, as well as the question of national parties, cannot be deferred for a single hour: we have here in essence two sides of one and the same question. (Without a Marxist International, national organizations even the most advanced, are doomed to narrowness, vacillation and helplessness; the advanced workers are forced to feed upon surrogates for internationalism. To proclaim as “purely theoretical”, i.e. needless, the building of the Fourth International, is cravenly to renounce he basic task of our epoch. In such a case, slogans of revolution, of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Councils, etc., lose nine-itenths of their meaning.

The Superiority of Foresight Over “Astonishment!”

The August 30 issue of the New Leader carries an excellent article: Don’t Trust the Government! The article points out that the danger of “national unity” draws closer with the approaching danger of war. At the time when the ill-fated leaders of the SAP call for the emulation – literally so! – of British pacifists, the New Leader writes:

“It (the Government) is actually using the enthusiasm for peace to prepare the British people for imperialist war.”

These lines, which are printed in italics, express with utmost precision the political function of petty-bourgeois pacifism: by providing a platonic outlet for the horror of the masses to war, pacifism enables imperialism all the easier to transform these masses into cannon fodder. The New Leader lashes the patriotic position of Citrine and other social-imperialists who (with quotations from Stalin) mount upon the backs of Lansbury and other pacifists. But this same article goes on to express its “astonishment” at the fact that the British Communists are supporting Citrine’s policy on the question of the League of Nations and the “sanctions” against Italy (“astonishing support of Labour line”). The “astonishment” in the article is the Achilles heelof the entire policy of the ILP. When an individual “astonishes” us by his unexpected behavior, it only means that we are poorly acquainted with this individual’s real character. It is immeasurably worse when a politician is compelled to confess his “astonishment” at the acts of a political party, and what is more, of an entire International. For the British Communists are only carrying out the decisions of the Seventh Congress of the Communist International. The leaders of the ILP are “astonished” only because they have failed up to now to grasp the real character of the Communist International, and its sections. Yet, there is a twelve years’ history behind the Marxist criticism of the Communist International. From the time the Soviet bureaucracy made as its symbol of faith the theory of “socialism in one country” (1924), the Bolshevik-Leninists forecasted the inevitability of the nationalist and patriotic degeneration of the sections of the Communist International, and from then on they followed this process critically through all its stages. The leaders of the ILP were caught off guard by events only because they had ignored the criticism of our tendency. The privilege of becoming “astonished” by major events is the prerogative of a pacifist and reformist petty-bourgeois. The Marxist, especially those claiming the right to leadership, must be capable not of astonishment but of foresight. And, we may remark in passing, it is not the first time in history that Marxist misdoubt turned out more penetrating than Centrist credulity.

The ILP broke with the mighty Labour Party because of the latter’s reformism and patriotism. And today, retorting to Wilkinson, the New Leader writes that the independence of the ILP is justified fully by the patriotic position of the Labour Party. Then what are we to say about the ILP’s interminable flirtation with the British Communist Party that now tails behind the Labour Party? What are we to say about the ILP’s urge to fuse with the Third International that is now the first violinist in the social-patriotic orchestra? Are you “astonished”, comrades Maxton, Fenner Brockway, and others? That does not suffice for a party leadership. In order to put an end to becoming astonished, one must evaluate critically the road that has been travelled, and draw the conclusion for the future.

Back in August 1933, the Bolshevik-Leninist delegation issued a special declaration officially proposing to all the participants in the London Bureau, among them the ILP, that they review jointly with us the basic strategic problems of our epoch, and in particular, that they determine their attitude to our programmatic documents.

But the leaders of the ILP deemed it below their dignity to occupy themselves with such matters. Besides, they were afraid they might compromise themselves by consorting with an organization which is the target of a particularly rabid and vile persecution at the hands of the Moscow bureaucracy: we should not overlook the fact that the leaders of the ILP awaited all the while an “invitation” from the Communist International. They waited, but the awaited did not materialize ...

Is it conceivable that even after the Seventh Congress the leaders of the ILP will be so hardy as to present the matter as if the British Stalinists turned out to be the squires of the little honored Sir Walter Citrine only through a misunderstanding, and only for a split-second ? Such a dodge would be unworthy of a revolutionary party. We should like to entertain the hope that the leaders of the ILP will come at last to an understanding of how lawful is the complete and irremediable collapse of the Communist International, as a revolutionary organization, and that they will draw from this all the necessary conclusions. These are quite simple:

On this road we are ready to march shoulder to shoulder with the ILP.

L. Trotsky
September 18, 1935



1. Cf. What the ILP Stands For, a Compendium of the Basic Party Documents.


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Last updated on: 4.4.2013