Leon Trotsky

Czechoslovakia: Toward A Decision

(November 1938)

Written: November 1938.
First Published: New International [New York], Vol. IV No. 11, November 1938, p. 347.
Online Version: Trotsky Internet Archive, April, 2001.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Tesla Coyle & David Walters.

Der Entscheidung entgegen
by Jaroslav Cerny
Druck Polensky and Coudek, Praha XII, 1938. 191 pp.

Under this title there has appeared in Brun, Czechoslovakia, a book of 191 pages in the German language devoted to an analysis of the world situation, the internal condition of Czechoslovakia and the problems of the world proletariat. The author of this book, Jaroslav Cerny, who published this work on the assignment of the “Vanguard” group, stands fully on the positions of revolutionary Marxism. It is natural therefore that he is also a convinced partisan of the Fourth International. It is just as natural that the bourgeois, social-democratic and Stalinist press should completely neglect this outstanding work, deserving of the most careful attention.

This note in no way pretends to take the role of a critical article on Comrade Cerny’s book. To this task I hope to return later. I wish to point out here that I do not agree in everything with the author. Thus his estimate of the last economic rise seems to me greatly exaggerated. But this is just a question of the analysis of the factual material, and now that the United States has again entered into a deep crisis it is much less difficult to judge the preceding rise than in the days when Comrade Cerny was writing his book. There are several other partial questions which in my opinion require additional treatment. But all these, after all, are only details which do not violate our basic solidarity with the author of the study.

However, there is one question of a timely political nature which must be clarified immediately. Cerny writes: “So far as the Trotskyites are concerned, they have shown themselves in the last ten years to be the only Marxist current which correctly estimated fascism, demanded in time a proletarian united front for struggle against it, while Stalin was at that period still calling social-democracy the twin of fascism. This estimate of Trotskyism was shared not so long ago by quite a few functionaries of the Second International, among them by Otto Bauer.” Here one should add that the left social democrats began to view us with “benevolence” beginning with the Third Period of happy memory, when our Marxist criticism was directed in the main against the ultra-left goat leaps of the Comintern. But from the moment when the Comintern made what seemed at first glance a sudden, in reality however, an absolutely inevitable turn to the basest opportunism, the left social-democratic functionaries, not excepting the late Bauer, hastily became semi-Stalinists and thus turned hostilely against the Fourth International. An analogous zig-zag was made by Messrs. Walcher, Fenner Brockway, and other “left” imitators of Otto Bauer.

“We do not doubt for a moment,” continues Comrade Cerny, “that in the future also the Trotskyites will continue to make a very valuable contribution to the process of revolutionizing the international proletarian movement and in the re-creation of its world organization.” If the programmatic unity of the author and the “Vanguard” group with the Bolshevik-Leninists can therefore be considered as firmly established on all basic questions, the organizational side of the matter appears much less clear. In this connection the author writes: “We do not think, however, that it would be correct to create a new ‘Trotskyite’ party ... The world revolutionary proletariat must create a new and therefore a Fourth International. However, it will be created not outside the big proletarian organizations, but through them and on the basis of them. In this view we differ from the official Trotskyites.” The great practical significance of this statement needs no proof. And precisely because of this we would wish a clearer, that is, a more concrete formulation of the question. Cerny and his group, as may be judged from the book, continue to remain in the Czechoslovakian social-democracy. We have never been principled opponents to the formation of fractions of the Fourth International within reformist or centrist parties; on the contrary, for many countries we considered this stage unavoidable. Their experiment passed through in several countries brought undoubtedly positive results, which nevertheless did not by far transform our sections into mass parties. How long our co-thinkers can or should remain a fraction of the Czechoslovakian social-democracy is a question of concrete conditions and possibilities and not at all of principles. That is why the motives which prompted the author to counterpose his group to the “official Trotskyites” are not clear to us. In our opinion it can be only a question of a division of labor, of a temporary distribution of “spheres of influence” but in no case of counterposing two organizational methods.

From the history of the Third International we know a case where the communist fraction succeeded in gaining the majority of a socialist party and included it officially.

France. Of course, such a case is theoretically possible in the building of the Fourth International. Does Cerny want to say that his closest co-thinkers have a chance of converting the Czechoslovakian social-democracy? From here, from afar, this perspective seems to be more than doubtful. In any case there cannot be any question of extending this method to all countries in the hope of building the Fourth International directly on the “basis” of present social-democratic or Stalinist, “big proletarian organizations.”

However, if Cerny wants to say that revolutionary Marxists, those who make up independent sections of the Fourth International as well as those who temporarily work as fractions within two other Internationals, are obliged to concentrate their main effort within the mass organizations, and in the first place in trade unions, we would be in full and unconditional solidarity with him on this. Those “partisans” of the Fourth International who under one excuse or another remain outside of mass organizations can only compromise the banner of the Fourth International. Our roads are not the same.

The purpose of this note, we repeat, is not to retell or give a critical evaluation of the rich and valuable content of this book of Comrade Cerny. We wish only to draw the attention of our sections and of all thinking Marxists in general to this study. The second part of Cerny’s book is wholly devoted to the “problems of the working class movement in Czechoslovakia.” The theoretical organs of our sections should, in my opinion, bring this second part, if in brief, before their readers.

I recommend most warmly Cerny’s book to all Marxists, to all class-conscious workers who know the German language.

Leon Trotsky

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Last updated on: 12 September 2015