Written: 22 December 1938–7 March 1939.
Source: The New International, Vol. V No.5, May 1939, New York, pp. 134–143.
Translated: New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Proofread/Editing: Andy Pollack & Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive 2005. This work is completely free to copy and distribute.
Dear Comrade Pivert:
I confess that it is not without hesitation that I have decided to write you this letter. Not solely because our political opinions are far from coinciding, but above all because even the idea of my addressing a political militant of France from a country far away over a matter which concerns France can seem out of place. Nevertheless, I have rejected these doubts. The situation is so critical, the fate of the proletariat of France and of all Europe, to a considerable degree of the entire world, depends to such a measure upon the next development of events in France, the fundamental elements of the situation are so clear, even from a great distance, that I consider it inadmissible not to make an attempt to explain myself to you when all is not yet lost.
The development in France during the last three or four years has proceeded much slower than could have been expected in 1934-1935 when I wrote the brochure, Whither France? Living reality is always richer in possibilities, in turns, in complications than the theoretical prognostication. But the general course of events has not brought, despite all, anything new in principle different from our conception. I do not wish now to stop over this, since I have devoted to this question my last article, The Decisive Hour Draws Near, which I hope will appear soon in French (in any case I enclose a copy with this letter). The development manifestly nears its denouément. This denouément cannot bring anything but the establishment of a fascist dictatorship, at the beginning of pre-fascist (Bonapartist), military type, or the victory of the proletariat. I do not think that we are in disagreement with you over this. I do not think moreover that there is disagreement in regard to the delay: a year or two, in my opinion, is the maximum which remains until the “definitive” denouément that is irretrievable for many years.
What can save the situation in France is the creation of a genuine revolutionary vanguard of several thousand men, clearly understanding the situation, completely free from the influence of bourgeois and petty bourgeois public opinion (“socialist”, “communist”, “anarcho-syndicalist”, etc.) and ready to go to the end. Such a vanguard will know how to find the road to the masses. In the last ten or fifteen years we have seen more than once how under the blows of great events great traditional parties and their groupings have fallen in dust, such as the Iron Front (without iron), the Popular Front (without people), etc. What neither breaks nor falls in dust is only what has been welded by clear, precise, intransigent revolutionary ideas.
I do not have the possibility of closely following the activity of your party, I do not know its internal composition, and that is why I abstain from pronouncing an evaluation. But I do know the other parties of the London Bureau, which have existed for well more than a year. I ask myself: your party, can it grapple with vast tasks hand in hand with Fenner Brockway, Walcher, Sneevliet, Brandler and other venerable invalids, who not only have not demonstrated in anything their capacity to orient themselves in revolutionary events, but on the contrary have demonstrated many times over their absolute incapacity for revolutionary action and in the following years, their not less absolute incapacity for learning what were their own errors. The best group among them was the POUM. But is it not now clear that the POUM’s fear of the petty bourgeois public opinion of the Second and Third Internationals and above all of the anarchists was one of the principal causes of the collapse of the Spanish revolution?
One of two things. Either the French proletariat, betrayed and enfeebled by Blum, Thorez, Jouhaux, and company, will be taken by surprise and erased without resistance, like the proletariat of Germany, of Austria, and of Czechoslovakia ... But it is useless to make calculations on the basis of this variant – servile prostration does not require any strategy. Or in the period which remains the vanguard of the French proletariat will again lift its head, gathering around it the masses and finding itself as capable of resisting as of attacking. But this variant supposes such an invigoration of the hopes of the masses, of their confidence in themselves, of their ardor, of their hate against the enemy, that all that is mean, mediocre, misshapen will be cast aside and dissipated in the gale. Only revolutionaries willing to go to the end are capable of directing a genuine insurrection of the masses, for the masses discern surpassingly well waverings from the spirit of resolute decision. For the insurrection of the masses firm leadership is necessary. And without insurrection catastrophe is inevitable, and that with but short delay.
I do not see any other road to the immediate formation of a revolutionary vanguard in France than the unification of your party and the section of the Fourth International. I understand that the two organizations are conducting negotiations over the fusion and the idea is far from me of interfering with the negotiations or of giving concrete advice from here. I approach the question from a more general point of view. The fact that the negotiations are lasting a long time and dragging out seems to me to be an extremely alarming circumstance, the symptom of discordance between the objective situation and the state of feeling even among the most advanced ranks of the working class. I should be happy to learn that I am mistaken.
You carry a great responsibility, Comrade Pivert, strongly similar to the responsibility which weighed on Andres Nin in the first years of the Spanish revolution. You can give events a great impulse forward. But you can also play the fatal role of brake. In moments of acute political crisis personal initiative is capable of exercising a great influence upon the course of events. It is solely necessary to decide firmly one thing: to go to the end!
I hope that you will appreciate at their true value the motives which have guided me in writing you this letter and I warmly wish you success on the road of the proletarian revolution.
Dear Comrade Trotsky:
I communicated the contents of your letter to my colleagues in the party executive. We are all, like you, agreed in our estimate of the extreme seriousness of the situation for France, and, consequently, for the international proletariat. We find only natural, therefore, an exchange of correspondence which, in spite of our differences of opinion, permits us to establish major analogies in our perspectives. We are, moreover, sufficiently free from nationalistic prejudices not to find in any way “out of order” a letter from a Marxian militant so experienced as yourself. It is up to us to force ourselves to see things as they are, and to determine honestly wherein the results of our observations coincide with your political conclusions or wherein they noticeably diverge. The only difference which seems to us to result from a comparison of your letter with our estimate pertains, perhaps, as in 1935, to the more or less rapid rhythm of predictable events: we know that the crisis approaches; but it can be advanced or retarded in accordance with the unfolding of international events upon which directly depend the situation in our own sector. And we should have been gratified if your letter had taken into account the feverish preparation of the general conflict between the imperialist camps and had made some approximation of delays in the light of that perspective.
However, in any case, the necessary task remains the same: to forge a revolutionary vanguard ready to pose the question of the conquest of power and to lead the working masses along the road of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The militants gathered around the PSOP have this formidable ambition. They have already gone through two selective tests: the September crisis proved their loyalty to proletarian internationalism; the November 30th general strike proved their capacity for direct action. These comrades do not have, certainly, the same rigorous and definitive judgment as yourself on the militants whom you mention with an underestimation of their political capacity, perhaps as a result of similarities or differences in tendency which today seem to us secondary. We have, in effect, constituted with them an International Workers’ Front against the war, and it is the platform and aim of this united front that should be submitted to the Marxian critique rather than the signature of this or that personality. But your sharp estimate of our comrades of the POUM will surely arouse unanimous protests among our militants, for to us, who have lived close enough to the events since July 1936, it is not “the fright of the POUM before the petty bourgeois public opinion of the Second or the Third Internationals or of the anarchists” which is the source of the collapse of the revolutionary vanguard; but the concentration of the efforts of British-French imperialism, of Italian German imperialism, and also those of the Stalinists. The results of a vanguard policy do not, alas, have the same fullness in a period of the retreat and depression of the labor movement as in a period of advance. But, for ourselves, we have drawn from this tragic experience the following lesson: a bold and decisive working class strategy can, under favorable circumstances, have an incalculable range. There are indeed times when one must go “to the bottom and to the end”. We lived through them in June July, 1936; we will not forget them.
Another question is posed in your letter: that of the “fusion” of our party with the French section of the Fourth International. The “negotiations” were stopped with fusion proposals which we could not have considered without violating the firm feeling of our militants, to whom the question of our affiliation to the Fourth International was put during our founding convention (July 16-17, 1938) and who almost unanimously rejected it. This decision and this attitude should not, moreover, take on the alarming character which you imagine. We defined the programmatic basis and charter of a revolutionary, internationalist socialist party, and a democratic constitution. All militants in agreement with our principles and the democratic guarantees which we offer belong in the PSOP, where they will themselves forge the instrument of liberation which was missing in June, 1936. This is entirely understood by the communist and socialist militants who are joining us, and moreover by the minority of the POI which has just taken its place in our ranks.
But we want to speak frankly to you, comrade Trotsky, about the sectarian methods which we have observed around us and which have contributed to the setbacks and enfeebling of the vanguard. I refer to those methods which consist in violating and brutalizing the revolutionary intelligence of those militants – numerous in France – who are accustomed to making up their own minds and who put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts. These are the methods which consist in interpreting with no indulgence whatever the inevitable fumblings in the search for revolutionary truth. Finally, these are the methods which attempt, by a colonization directed from without, to dictate to the labor movement attitudes, tactics or responses which do not come from the depths of its collective intelligence. It is in large part because of this that the French section of the Fourth International has shown itself absolutely incapable not merely of reaching the masses but indeed even of forming tried and serious cadres.
If the question of fusion with the POI (majority) had been posed, it would have involved as a pre-condition a discussion relative to these methods from which the labor movement has too much suffered. Since serious differences exist between the POI (majority) and the PSOP, why propose fusion? If the proposal is sincere, do you think that we will abandon our preference for a revolutionary party, with a democratic constitution, which is capable of directing its own affairs? And if the proposal is not sincere, it would be better not to insist on it: confronted with the mighty political organizations of the working class and the bourgeois repression we have something else to do besides spending our time in this deceptive game.
Believe me that we much prefer – with no concern for personal or factional preconception (he who had such preconceptions at the present moment would be very mediocre) – the organization of a united front between the revolutionary groups which are separated by ideological differences (directed, for example, against the threatening imperialist war), rather than an illusory organic fusion carrying in its breast the germs of disorientation and speedy disintegration. To sum up, we attach very great worth to the fraternal collaboration of all revolutionary militants who are trying to subordinate their personal preferences to the exigencies of collective action. The process of the constitution of the revolutionary vanguard cannot be of the character of a mechanical operation.
In the measure to which we carry on our shoulders our share of responsibility before the working class, we are determined, comrade Trotsky, to prove ourselves not too inferior to the grave tasks which await us.
With our thanks, dear comrade Trotsky, we send our revolutionary greetings.
I hasten to reply to your letter of January 24, which gave me important information about the situation in the PSOP. I find it necessary to comment upon the points which Marceau Pivert brought up in his conversation with you.
He proclaimed his “complete solidarity” with me in his estimate of the general situation in France. Needless to say, I greet such a declaration warmly. But it is nevertheless insufficient. In order that there may be the possibility of subsequent collaboration, there must be not only a unity in estimate; it is also necessary that the practical conclusion, at least the most essential ones, be identical. In connection with the days of June, 1936, Marceau Pivert wrote: “Now everything is possible.” That was a magnificent formula. It meant: with this proletariat, we can go to the end, that is to say, orient directly toward the conquest of power. During those same days, or soon after, I wrote: “The French revolution has begun.” We thus had a common premise with Marceau Pivert. But that is exactly why I could not understand how Marceau Pivert could keep confidence in Blum, even though that confidence was conditional and limited – a semi confidence, when it was absolutely clear that that bourgeois guardian and dolt, a deserter from head to foot, was capable of leading the proletariat only to defeats and humiliations.
But we will not go back to the past. Let us take up the present situation. The question of Freemasonry has, in my opinion, an enormous political and symptomatic importance. In the epoch of profound revolutionary crisis through which France now passes and which places before the proletariat in the sharpest manner the question of the struggle for power, it is an elementary and urgent duty for the revolutionary leaders to break every political and moral link with the treacherous leaders of bourgeois radicalism and official “socialism”, who will always be against the workers in decisive events.
I do not know whether Daladier is a Freemason; but Chautemps is and along with him a number of other Cabinet members. I ask myself how it is possible to oppose seriously the abject policies of the Popular Front – that is to say, the political submission of the proletariat to the radical bourgeoisie – and at the same time remain in a “moral” bloc with the leaders of the radical bourgeoisie, with these rascals and Staviskyites who, in their rôle as Freemasons, take upon themselves the task of the “moral” regeneration of humanity. Confronted with so blatant a contradiction, every worker has the right to say: “These socialists do not themselves believe in the socialist revolution, else they would not remain friends of the leaders of the class against which they are preparing, so they say, the revolution!”
Thanks to fortunate, or unfortunate (I hardly know which), circumstances, I had a chance to observe at first hand a little piece of Freemasonry, during my stay at Isêre. I lived in the house of a Freemason, the majority of whose guests were also Freemasons. Among my young friends there was a Freemason who had just recently broken with Freemasonry. This is why I can base my opinion not merely on general considerations, which are entirely indisputable in themselves, but likewise on living observation of the role of Freemasonry in the political life of the French Provinces.
The upper layer of Freemasonry is made up of radicals or “socialists”, lawyers, deputies, careerists, cynics, for whom the lodges are only an electoral apparatus. In the Grenoble lodges there are no, or hardly any, workers; on the contrary, an important position is occupied by the lesser executives of the factories. I knew one foreman, and I had interesting reports on another. Their chief concern was to get away from the workers, to be in “polite society”, to listen to “educated” men. They regarded with pious respect the lawyers and professors who offered them “humanitarian” and “pacifist” banalities. The officers of the lodge, who played some role in the politics of Grenoble, with the help of the masonic ritual submitted to their own ends a petty bourgeois clientele and a fragment of the semi-proletarian aristocracy. Some of these gentlemen did not themselves join the Freemasons, but pulled strings from back stage. In the Freemasonry were thus concentrated all those parasitical traits which today give so repulsive a visage to the Second and the Third Internationals. Can one break with social democracy and the Comintern and at the same time remain bound up with the worst caricature of the two organizations, the Freemasonry?
The revolution demands a complete gift from a man. Those revolutionists are very doubtful who do not find the satisfaction of their political and moral needs in a revolutionary workers’ party but look for something “better” and “more elevated” in the society of bourgeois radicals.
What exactly are they looking for? Let them explain to the workers! ... What is most difficult and also most important in an epoch such as France is now going through is to free oneself from the influence of bourgeois public opinion, to break from it inwardly, not to fear its barking and lies and calumnies, and equally to despise its praise and flatteries. On this condition alone can one be assured of the necessary freedom of action, of the faculty of hearing in time the revolutionary voice of the masses and putting oneself at their head for the decisive offensive. However, Freemasonry, by its very essence, is a safety-valve for drawing off revolutionary tendencies. The very small percentage of honest idealists who can be found in the lodges only increases the dangerous character of Freemasonry.
This is why I am compelled to believe that Marceau Pivert has not drawn the necessary conclusions from his revolutionary premises. And that is what is most dangerous in a revolutionary epoch. It was precisely because of its inability to draw the necessary practical conclusions that the POUM cracked its head. The misfortune is, it seems, that Marceau Pivert even now is satisfied with his radical analysis of the situation, but remains indecisive before the revolutionary tasks which follow from that analysis.
In connection with what I have just said, I note with the greatest uneasiness the recriminations and accusation which Marceau Pivert brings against certain members of the POI who have just entered the PSOP. They permit themselves, according to his statements, “brutal attacks”, they employ an “incorrect tone”, they are distinguished by their “sharpness”, etc., etc. Far be it from me to analyze isolated instances which I do not know about nor can know about from here. I admit that there may have been in this or that case incidents that lacked tact. But could that have a serious political importance in the eyes of a revolutionist? Since the labor movement began, accusations of using a misplaced tone, of being too sharp or lacking tact have never ceased being brought against the representatives of the left wing (against Marx, against Engels, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht). This is to be explained, on the one hand, by the fact that socialists who have not completely broken with the prejudices of bourgeois public opinion, and feel the duplicity of their own situation, do not at all welcome any criticism. That is a psychological law. On the other hand, those who, in a desperate struggle against the dominant parties, are inspired with intransigent revolutionary ideas are always inclined, especially in a critical situation like today’s, toward impatience, over insistence, and irritation toward those centrist elements who hesitate, wait, evade and lose time. The entire history of the revolutionary movement is featured by a polemical dialogue between these two types.
To appeal to internal party democracy and at the same time to complain about “tone” does not seem very convincing to me. Democracy is limited by centralism, that is, by the necessity for unity in action. But it is an error to state: Since we have democracy, therefore do not dare to open your mouth too wide or to speak in a tone which displeases us. It is still less pleasing to revolutionists that certain others use in speaking to Leon Blum a tone full of suppleness, a tone of conciliation and pleading. In both cases, the tone is inextricably linked to the political content. It is precisely this content that must be discussed.
If some former member of the POI had broken discipline, I should understand not merely the accusations but his expulsion from the party. Every organization has the right to maintain its discipline. But when I hear these accusations according to which x or y defended his ideas too impolitely and thereby forced two “very precious” party comrades to resign, I don’t understand it at all. What is the revolutionist worth who leaves his party simply because someone has sharply criticized his ideas? Petty-bourgeois sympathisers who look on the party as a salon, a friendly club or a masonic lodge are worthless in a revolutionary epoch. If they cannot endure rather sharp remarks, they only show thereby their inner emptiness: these people are only looking for a pretext for deserting the barricades.
Revolutionists who express their ideas openly, even if sharply, are not dangerous for the PSOP. What is dangerous for it are unprincipled intriguers, individuals who know how to mask their true faces, who cover themselves up with any ideas whatever, who today defend one thing, tomorrow another, adventurers of the type of Raymond Molinier who try to gain influence not by ideological struggle but by corridor intrigues. Dangerous also are self-centered and absolutely sterile sectarians of the type of the Belgian, Vereecken, who need a party only as an audience for their warblings. The superiority of the Fourth International is that it has systematically purged itself of these elements. That is what must also he hoped for in the case of the PSOP.
I shall not take up here the question of the POUM: anyone who takes this problem seriously must reply to our criticism of the POUM. Events have completely confirmed it. It is better not to speak of the ILP at all: compared with Maxton & Co., the deceased leader of the Mensheviks, Martov, was a genuine revolutionist. And we want to learn from Lenin, not from Martov. Is that not so, Marceau Pivert?
The PSOP split from an opportunist party to the left, and at a time full of responsibilities and very critical. The composition of the PSOP is, I am informed, largely proletarian. These two facts are the very precious token of a possible revolutionary development for the party. In order to turn this possibility into reality, the PSOP must go through a stage of the most extensive and bold discussion, held back by no external or subordinate consideration. It is not a question of the tone but of the content of the critique. It is not a question of personal pride but of the fate of the French proletariat. The next months, perhaps the next weeks even, will show whether the PSOP can and will enter the road of Marxism, that is of Bolshevism: in our epoch these two notions coincide entirely.
With best regards,
Dear Comrade Trotsky:
I take the liberty of adding a personal word to the letter which Marceau Pivert has written you. I was out of town, and not present at the meeting of the party executive at which the contents of that letter were approved.
If I had been present I should undoubtedly have insisted that the last section should have been put differently.
I am not altogether in agreement, indeed, with my comrades on the executive when they emphasize serious differences which might exist between the POI and the PSOP. I believe that these “serious differences” were created artificially by the sectarianism of certain of your friends, such as Naville. And I regret that we take up, on our side, the assertion that these “serious differences” exist. I have the impression that, on both sides, we take refuge behind these “differences” in order not to unite.
I do not believe, moreover, that a “united front” would be preferable to fusion, nor that such a fusion would necessarily carry “in its breast the germs of confusion and speedy disintegration”.
It is possible, even quite possible that it might be so, but only in the event that your friends should consider the fusion as a disloyal maneuver, planning to get a foothold as an “alien body” in the PSOP, in such a way as to destroy it from within and to prepare a new split – that is, to drag along, for the purpose of forming a new POI, a certain number of our militants. Yes, if that should be the plan of your friends, the fusion would be “illusory,” and disastrous.
But I cannot believe, in spite of the suspicion which the tactic of certain of your friends arouses in me, I cannot believe that, in the present serious circumstances, they would commit the crime of destroying the only movement which, in France, can serve as the crucible for forming the revolutionary vanguard. Consequently, I do not dismiss the possibility of a loyal fusion.
You will not stand on formality if I tell you exactly what I think: it is upon you, upon you alone, that there depends the question of whether the fusion would be loyal or disloyal.
In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I point out that by fusion I mean, naturally, the entry of the members of the POI as individuals into the PSOP: the numerical disproportion between the POI and the PSOP, on the one hand, and the approach of our next convention, on the other, rule out a special fusion convention.
But it is actually a question of fusion, because the voice of your friends, in accordance with our principles of full workers’ democracy, will be able to be freely heard in our party – as early, I believe, as our convention in May.
The only difference which I see between your friends and us, and I persist in regarding it as purely formal, is the question of the “Fourth”. We want to build a new revolutionary international. The only “difference” springs from the fact that you have baptised your international secretariat as the “Fourth International”, whereas in our opinion the new international cannot be created by a wave of the magic wand. It will be borne within the masses, and the masses must be actively prepared for it, must be made to understand its necessity, must be made to find the road that leads to it. Yes, I repeat (though I understand in advance your vehement protest) that it is a question only of a formal difference. It should not become an obstacle to the indispensable regrouping, the indispensable and urgent re-enforcing of the revolutionary vanguard in France.
Les Lilas (Seine), Feb. 2, 1939
DEAR COMRADE GUERIN:
I received your letter at the same time as the official letter of Marceau Pivert. I am greatly obliged to you for the exposition of your personal point of view even though – as you yourself foresaw – I cannot share it.
You, unlike Pivert, think there are no “serious differences” between us. I fully admit that there exist inside your party various nuances and that certain ones are very close to the conceptions of the Fourth International. But the tendency that dominates, it seems, in the leadership and which Pivert expresses is scarcely less divided from us than by an abyss. I have become convinced of this precisely by the last letter of Pivert.
In order to determine the political physiognomy of an organization, it is of decisive importance to examine the international continuation of its national policy. That is where I shall begin. In my letter to Pivert I expressed my surprise at seeing that your party was still able, after the experience of the last years, to find itself in political alliance with the Independent Labour Party (ILP) of England, with the POUM and other similar organizations against us and that in spite of a most recent experience: only yesterday Pivert found himself in political alliance with Walcher – against us. Your party is a new party. It still has to take shape, it does not yet have (in a certain sense, fortunately!) a definitive physiognomy. But the ILP has been in existence for dozens of years, its evolution has taken place before our eyes; everything was established in its time, analyzed and in large measure foretold. The POUM went through a grand revolution and in it was able to reveal its real figure. In both these cases we are not reasoning on the future possibilities of a party which is only taking shape; but we are dealing with old organizations tested by experience.
Of the ILP it is not worth while speaking at length. I will only recall a very recent fact. The leader of this party, Maxton, thanked Chamberlain in Parliament after the Munich pact and declared to astonished humanity that by his policy Chamberlain had saved the peace – yes, yes, had saved the peace! – that he, Maxton, knew Chamberlain well and he assured that Chamberlain had “sincerely” fought the war and “sincerely” saved the peace, etc., etc. This single example gives a conclusive and what is more a pretty crushing characterization of Maxton and of his party. The revolutionary proletariat rejects Chamberlain’s “peace” just as it does his war. The “peace” of Chamberlain is the continuation of the violence against India and other colonies and the preparation of the war in conditions more favorable for the British slaveholders. To take upon himself the slightest shadow of responsibility for the policy of “peace” of Chamberlain, is not possible for a socialist, for a revolutionist, but only for a pacifist lackey of imperialism. The party that tolerates a leader like Maxton and actions like his public solidarization with the slaveholder Chamberlain is not a socialist party but a miserable pacifist clique.
What is the situation with the POUM? According to the words of Pivert, your whole party is “unanimously” ready to defend the POUM against our criticism. I leave aside the question of the “unanimity”: I am not sure that the members of your organization know in detail the history of the Spanish revolution, the history of the struggle of the various tendencies in its midst, in particular the critical work which the representatives of the Fourth International contributed in the questions of the Spanish revolution. But it is clear in any case that the leadership of your party has absolutely not understood the fatal mistakes of the POUM, which flow from its centrist, non-revolutionary, non-Marxian character.
Since the beginning of the Spanish revolution, I found myself in very close contact with a certain number of militants, in particular with Andres Nin. We exchanged hundreds of letters. It is only after the experience of quite a number of months that I came to the conclusion that Nin, honest and devoted to the cause, was not a Marxist, but a centrist, in the best case a Spanish Martov, that is to say, a Menshevik of the left. Pivert does not distinguish between the policy of Menshevism and the policy of Bolshevism in the revolution.
The leaders of the POUM did not pretend for a single day to play an independent role; they did everything to remain in the rôle of good “left” friends and counsellors of the leaders of the mass organizations.  This policy, which flowed from the lack of confidence in itself and in its ideas, doomed the POUM to duplicity, to a false tone, to continual oscillations which found themselves in sharp contradiction with the amplitude of the class struggle. The mobilization of the vanguard against the reaction and its abject lackeys, including the anarcho-bureaucrats, the leaders of the POUM replaced by quasi-revolutionary homilies addressed to the treacherous leaders, declaring in self-justification that the “masses” would not understand another, more resolute policy. Left centrism, above all in revolutionary conditions, is always ready to adopt in words the program of the socialist revolution and is not niggardly with sonorous phrases. But the fatal malady of centrism is not being capable of drawing courageous tactical and organizational conclusions from its general conceptions. They always seem to it to be “premature”; “the opinion of the masses must be prepared” (by means of equivocation, of duplicity, of diplomacy, etc.); in addition, it fears to break its habitual amicable relations with the friends on the right, it “respects” personal opinions; that is why it delivers all its blows ... against the left, thus endeavoring to raise its prestige in the eyes of serious public opinion.
Such is also the political psychology of Marceau Pivert. He absolutely does not understand that a pitiless manner of posing the fundamental questions and a fierce polemic against vacillations are only the necessary ideological and pedagogical reflection of the implacable and cruel character of the class struggle of our time. To him it seems that this is “sectarianism”, lack of respect for the personality of others, etc., that is, he remains entirely on the level of petty bourgeois moralizing. Are these “serious differences”? Yes, I cannot imagine more serious differences inside the labor movement. With Blum and company we do not have “differences”: we simply find ourselves on different sides of the barricades.
Following all the opportunists and centrists, Marceau Pivert explains the defeat of the Spanish proletariat by the bad behavior of French and British imperialism and the Bonapartist clique of the Kremlin. This is quite simply to say that a victorious revolution is always and everywhere impossible. One can neither expect nor ask for a movement of greater scope, greater endurance, greater heroism on the part of the workers than we were able to observe in Spain. The imperialist “democrats” and the mercenary rabble of the Second and the Third Internationals will always behave as they did towards the Spanish revolution. What then can be hoped for? He is criminal who instead of analyzing the policy of bankruptcy of the revolutionary or quasi-revolutionary organizations invokes the ignominy of the bourgeoisie and its lackeys. It is precisely against them that a correct policy is needed!
An enormous responsibility for the Spanish tragedy falls upon the POUM. I have all the greater right to say so because in my letters to Andres Nin, since 1931, I predicted the inevitable consequences of the disastrous policy of centrism. By their general “left” formulae the leaders of the POUM created the illusion that a revolutionary party existed in Spain and prevented the appearance of the truly proletarian, intransigent tendencies. At the same time, by their policy of adaptation to all the forms of reformism they were the best auxiliaries of the anarchist, socialist and communist traitors. The personal honesty and heroism of numerous workers of the POUM naturally provoke our sympathy; against the reaction and the rabble of Stalinism we are ready to defend them to the utmost. But that revolutionist is worth precious little who, under the influence of sentimental considerations, is incapable of considering objectively the real essence of a given party. The POUM always sought the line of least resistance, it temporized, ducked, played hide and seek with the revolution. It began by trying to retrench itself in Catalonia, closing its eyes to the relationship of forces in Spain. In Catalonia, the leading positions in the working class were occupied by the anarchists; the POUM began by ignoring the Stalinist danger (in spite of all the warnings!) and attuning itself to the anarchist bureaucracy. So as not to create any “superfluous” difficulties for themselves, the POUM leaders closed their eyes to the fact that the anarchobureaucrats were not worth one whit more than all the other reformists, that they only covered themselves with a different phraseology. The POUM refrained from penetrating into the midst of the National Confederation of Labor [CNT] in order not to disturb relations with the summits of this organization and in order to retain the possibility of remaining in the rôle of counsellor to them. That is the position of Martov. But Martov, be it said in his honor, knew how to avoid mistakes as crude and shameful as participation in the Catalan government! To pass over openly and solemnly from the camp of the proletariat to the camp of the bourgeoisie! Marceau Pivert closes his eyes to such “details”. For the workers who, during the revolution, direct all the force of their class hatred against the bourgeoisie, the participation of a “revolutionary” leader in a bourgeois government is a fact of enormous importance: it disorients and demoralizes them. And this fact did not fall from the sky. It was a necessary link in the policy of the POUM. The leaders of the POUM spoke with great eloquence of the advantages of the socialist revolution over the bourgeois revolution; but they did nothing serious to prepare this socialist revolution because the preparation could only consist of a pitiless, audacious, implacable mobilization of the anarchist, socialist and communist workers against their treacherous leaders. It was necessary not to fear separation from these leaders, to change into a “sect” during the early days, even if it were persecuted by everybody, it was necessary to put forth exact and clear slogans, foretell the morrow and, basing oneself on the events, discredit the official leaders and drive them from their positions. In the course of eight months, the Bolsheviks, from the small group that they were, became a decisive force. The energy and the heroism of the Spanish proletariat gave the POUM several years in which to prepare. The POUM had the time on two or three occasions to emerge from its swaddling clothes and to become an adult. If it did not, it is in no wise the fault of the “democratic” imperialists and the Moscow bureaucrats, but the result of an internal cause: its own leadership did not know where to go or what paths to take.
An enormous historical responsibility falls upon the POUM If the POUM had not marched at the heels of the anarchists and had not fraternized with the “People’s Front”, if it had conducted an intransigent revolutionary policy, then, at the moment of the May 1937 insurrection and most likely much sooner, it would naturally have found itself borne to the head of the masses and would have assured the victory. The POUM was not a revolutionary party but a centrist party raised by the wave of the revolution. That is not at all the same thing. Marceau Pivert does not understand this even today, for he is himself a centrist to the marrow of his bones.
It seems to Marceau Pivert that he has understood the conditions and the lessons of June 1936. No, he has not understood them, and his incomprehension manifests itself in the clearest manner in the question of the POUM. Martov passed through the revolution of 1905 and did not assimilate its lessons in any wise: he showed it in the revolution of 1917. Andres Nin wrote dozens of times – and quite sincerely – that he was in agreement with us “in principle” but in disagreement as to “tactics” and “rhythm”; what is more, unfortunately, he never found the possibility, until his death, of saying once clearly and precisely wherein exactly he was in disagreement and wherein he was not. Why? Because he did not say so to himself.
Marceau Pivert says in his letter that his only difference with us is in the appraisal of the “rhythm” and he mentions in addition an analogous difference in 1935. But exactly a few months later, in June, 1936, imposing events unfolded which revealed fully what Pivert’s mistake was in the question of the rhythm. Pivert found himself taken unawares by these events for, in spite of everything, he continued to remain a “left wing” friend attached to Leon Blum, that is, to the worst agent of the class enemy. The rhythm of the events does not adapt itself to the rhythm of centrist indecision. On the other hand, the centrists always cover their disagreement with the revolutionary policy by invoking the “rhythm”, the “form” or the “tone”. You can find this centrist way of playing hide and seek with facts and ideas throughout the history of the revolutionary movement.
Concerning the problem of the Spanish revolution – the most important problem of these last years – the Fourth International gave a Marxian analysis of the situation at each stage, a criticism of the policy of the labor organizations (above all of the POUM), and a prognosis. Has Pivert made a single attempt to submit our appraisal to his criticism, to oppose his analysis to ours? Never! That is something the centrists never do. They fear instinctively any scientific analysis. They live by general impressions and nebulous corrections of the conceptions of others. Fearing to commit themselves, they play hide and seek with the historic process.
I have not the slightest intention to make extraordinary demands upon your party: it has only just separated itself from the social democracy; it has never known any other school. But it separated itself at the left, in a period of profound crisis, and that opens up to it serious possibilities of revolutionary development. That is my point of departure: otherwise I should not have had the slightest reason to address myself to Marceau Pivert with a letter to which he has replied, alas! by continuing to play hide and seek. Marceau Pivert does not take into account the real situation in your party. He writes that in September, during the international crisis, the party measured up to its tasks. I wish with all my heart that this appreciation were exact. But today it seems to me to be too precipitate. There was no war. The masses did not find themselves placed before the accomplished fact. The fear of the war dominated in the working class and among the petty bourgeoisie. It is to these prewar tendencies that your party gave expression in the abstract slogans of internationalism. But do not forget that in 1914 the German social democracy and the French socialist party remained very “internationalist”, very “intransigent” – up to the moment when the first cannon shot was fired. The Vorwärts changed its position so abruptly on August 4 that Lenin asked himself if that number was not a forgery of the German General Staff.
To be sure, one can only welcome the fact that your party did not enter the path of chauvinism in September. But that is still only a negative merit. To affirm that your party has passed an examination in revolutionary internationalism, is to be content with too little, is not to foresee the furious offensive that will supervene, in case of war, on the part of bourgeois public opinion, its social patriotic and communo-chauvinistic agency included. In order to prepare the party for such a test, it is necessary now to polish and repolish its consciousness, to temper its intransigence, to go to the very end of all ideas, not to pardon perfidious friends. In the first place, it is necessary to break with the Freemasons (who are all patriots) and the pacifists of the Maxton type, and to turn towards the Fourth International – not in order to place oneself immediately under its banner – nobody asks that – but to explain oneself honestly with it on the fundamental problems of the proletarian revolution.
It is precisely in view of the approach of the war that all world reaction and above all its Stalinist agency have all evil spring from “Trotskyism” and direct all their main blows against it. Others receive a few blows in passing, being also treated as “Trotskyists”. That is not by chance. The political groupings are polarizing. To reaction and its agents, “Trotskyism” is the international menace of the socialist revolution. Under these conditions the centrists of various nuances, frightened by the growing pressure of the “democratic” – Stalinist reaction, swear at every step: “We are not Trotskyists”, “We are against the Fourth International”, “We are not as bad as you think”. They are playing hide and seek. My dear Guérin, it is necessary to put an end to this unworthy game!
Pivert states in a fairly supercilious tone that he and his friends – apparently in contrast to us sinners – are strangers to considerations of a personal nature or of tendency. Aren’t these words astonishing? How can considerations of a personal and a principled (“of tendency”) nature be placed on the same level? Personal preoccupations and complaints play a very great role among the petty bourgeois semi revolutionists, among the Freemasons, in general among all the centrists, haughty and skittish because they lack self assurance. But considerations “of tendency”, that is the concern with the political program, the method, the banner. How can one say that ideological intransigence is “unworthy” of our epoch when the latter, more than any other, demands clarity, audacity and intransigence?
In Freemasonry are assembled people of different classes, of different parties, with different interests and with different personal aims. The whole art of the leadership of Freemasonry consists in neutralizing the different tendencies and smoothing out the contradictions between the groups and the cliques (in the interests of “democracy” and of “humanity”, that is, of the ruling class). Thus one grows accustomed to speaking aloud about everything save the essential. This false, hypocritical, adulterated morality impregnates, directly or indirectly, the majority of the official labor leaders in France. Marceau Pivert himself is permeated with the influence of this morality. It seems to him that to name aloud a disagreeable fact is an impropriety. We however judge it to be criminal to be silent on the facts that have an importance for the class struggle of the proletariat. There is the fundamental difference of our morality.
Can you, Guérin, reply clearly and frankly to the workers: what is it that links Pivert to Masonry? I will tell you: it is that which separates him from the Fourth International, that is, petty bourgeois sentimental indecision, dependence upon official public opinion. If someone tells me that he is a materialist and that at the same time he goes to mass on Sunday, I say that his materialism is false. He may well exclaim that I am intolerant, that I am lacking in tact, that I am assailing his “personality”, etc. That does not move me. To combine revolutionary socialism with Freemasonry is as inconceivable as to combine materialism with Catholicism. The revolutionist cannot have two political domiciles: one with the bourgeoisie (for the soul), the other with the workers (for current politics). Duplicity is incompatible with the proletarian revolution. Wiping out internal stability, duplicity engenders sensitivity, susceptibility, intellectual timidity. Down with duplicity, Guérin!
When Marceau Pivert speaks of our “sectarianism” (we do not deny the presence of sectarian tendencies in our ranks and we fight against them) and of our isolation from the masses, he demonstrates again his incomprehension of the present epoch and of his own role in it. Yes, we are still isolated from the masses. By whom or by what? By the organizations of reformism, of Stalinism, of patriotism, of pacifism and by the intermediate centrist groupings of all kinds in which are expressed – sometimes in an extremely indirect and complex form – the self-defensive reflex of expiring capitalism. Marceau Pivert, while preventing a certain group of workers from pushing their ideas to the very end and while thus isolating these workers from Marxism, reproaches us for being isolated from the masses. One of these isolators is centrism; an active element of this isolator is Pivert. Our tasks consist precisely in removing these “isolators”; to convince some and win them to the cause of the revolution, to unmask and annihilate the others. Pivert simply takes fright at the fact of the isolation of the revolutionists in order to remain very close to the pacifists, the confusionists and the Freemasons, to put off to an indefinite future the serious questions, to invoke the incorrect “rhythm” and the bad “tone” – in a word, to stand in the way of the conjunction of the labor movement and revolutionary Marxism.
Marceau Pivert has a low appreciation of our cadres because he has not understood the fundamentals of the questions which are at present on the order of the day. It seems to him that we occupy ourselves with hair splitting. He is profoundly mistaken. Just as the surgeon must learn to distinguish each tissue, each nerve in order to be able to handle correctly the scalpel, so the revolutionary militant must carefully and minutely examine all the questions and draw the ultimate conclusions from them. Marceau Pivert sees sectarianism where it isn’t.
It is noteworthy that all the genuine sectarians, of the type of Sneevliet, of Vereecken, etc., gravitate around the London Bureau, the POUM, Marceau Pivert. The riddle is simple: the sectarian is an opportunist who fears his own opportunism. On the other hand, the range of the centrist’s oscillations runs from sectarianism to opportunism. Thence their reciprocal attraction. The sectarian cannot have the masses behind him. The centrist cannot be at their head save for a brief, passing moment. Only the revolutionary Marxist is capable of blazing a trail to the masses.
You repeat the old phrases according to which it is first necessary to “convince the masses” of the necessity of the Fourth International and that only afterward must it be proclaimed. This opposition has absolutely nothing real, nothing serious in it, has no genuine content. The revolutionists who are for a definite program and for a definite banner gather together on the international scale to fight for the conquest of the masses. That is precisely what we have done. We shall educate the masses by the experiences of the movement. You want to educate them “preliminarily”? How? By the alliance with the imperialist lackey Maxton or with the centrist preacher Fenner Brockway or with the Freemason friends? Do you seriously think that that public will educate the masses for the Fourth International? I can only laugh bitterly. The well known Jacob Walcher, a vulgar social democrat, taught Marceau Pivert for a long time that “it was not yet time” for the Fourth International, and now he is preparing to pass into the Second International where, moreover, he has his place. When the opportunists invoke the fact that the mass is not mature, it is usually only in order to mask their own immaturity. The whole mass will never be mature under capitalism. The different strata of the mass mature at different times. The struggle for the “maturing” of the mass begins with a minority, with a “sect”, with a vanguard. There is not and cannot be any other road in history.
Without as yet having doctrine, revolutionary tradition, clear program, masses, you did not fear to proclaim a new party. By what right? Obviously you believe that your ideas give you the right to win the masses, isn’t that so? Why then do you refuse to apply the same criterion to the International? Solely because you do not know how to raise yourself up to the international point of view. A national party (even if it is in the form of an initiating organization) is a vital necessity for you, but an international party looks like a luxury, and that can wait. That’s bad, Guérin, very bad!
Marceau Pivert proposes, instead of the fusion of the organizations, a “united front”. That has a solemn air, but there isn’t very much in it. A “united front” has sense when it is a question of mass organizations. But that is not the case. Given the separate existence of organizations, episodic agreements on one occasion or another are, to be sure, inevitable. But what interests us is not the isolated cases but the policy as a whole. The central task is the work inside the trade unions, the penetration of the socialist and communist parties. This task cannot be resolved by a “united front”, that is, by the diplomatic game of two feeble organizations. What is needed is a concentration of forces on a definite program in order to penetrate the masses with the united forces. Otherwise all the “rhythms” are lost. Very, very little time is left.
Unlike Pivert, you consider personally that the fusion is possible and necessary but, you add, on the condition that it be a loyal, honest fusion. What do you understand by that? The renunciation of criticism? The mutual remission of sins? Our French section conducts the struggle for its conceptions with a definite program and definite methods. It is ready to fight in common with you for these conceptions; it is ready to fight in your ranks for its ideas by the methods which every healthy proletarian organization guarantees. That is what we consider an honest unity.
What does Pivert understand by honest unity? “Hands off my Freemasonry, that is my personal affair.” “Hands off my friendship with Maxton or with Fenner Brockway.” Allow me: Freemasonry is an organization of the class enemy; Maxton is a pacifist lackey of imperialism. How can one not struggle against them? How can one not explain to all the members of the party that political friendship with these gentlemen is an open door to treason? Yet our criticism of Maxton seems to Pivert disloyal or “secondary”. Why these superfluous worries? It is necessary to live and to let others live. In the question of political loyalty we have different, not to say opposite, criteria from those of Marceau Pivert. It must be recognized openly.
When I wrote to Pivert, I did not have great illusions, but I did not abandon the hope of a rapprochement with him. Pivert’s reply showed me that we are dealing with an organic centrist who, under the influence of revolutionary events, will shift to the right rather than to the left. I should be glad if I were mistaken. But at the present stage I cannot permit myself an optimistic judgment.
What is the conclusion, you will ask me? I do not identify Pivert with your young organization. The fusion with it seems to me possible. The technique of the fusion does not depend upon me: that is the business of the comrades who are working on the spot. I am for an honest fusion in the sense indicated above: to pose clearly and frankly before all the members of the two organizations all the questions of revolutionary policy. Nobody has the right to swear an oath on his sincerity and to complain about the pettyfogging spirit of the adversary. It is a question of the fate of the proletariat. One cannot base himself upon the good sentiments of isolated individuals, but on the consistent policy of a party. If fusion were attained, as I hope it will be, and if the fusion should open up a serious discussion, I beg you to consider my letter as a contribution, come from afar, to this discussion.
P.S. – I should mention even here, if only in passing, that the name of your party produces a curious impression, from the Marxian standpoint. A party cannot be worker and peasant. The peasant class, in the sociological sense, is part of the petty bourgeoisie. A party of the proletariat and of the petty bourgeoisie is a petty bourgeois party. A revolutionary socialist party can only be proletarian. It embraces in its ranks peasants and, in general, individuals coming from other classes to the extent that they adopt the point of view of the proletariat. In a revolutionary government we can, to be sure, conclude a bloc with a peasant organization and create a workers’ and peasants’ government (on the condition that the leadership be assured to the proletariat). But a party is not a bloc, a party cannot be worker and peasant. The title of the party is the banner. A mistake in the title is always pregnant with danger. Breaking completely with Marxism, Stalin preached a few years ago in favor of “workers’ and peasants’ parties for the countries of the East”. The Left Opposition came forward vigorously against this opportunism. Today again we see no reason for violating the class point of view, neither for the countries of the East nor the countries of the West.
1. Just as for a long time, too long a time, Marceau Pivert did everything to remain the left wing friend and the counsellor of Blum and company. I greatly fear that even today Marceau Pivert and his closest ideological companions have not understood that Blum does not represent an ideological adversary but an avowed and, moreover, ... [rest of footnote text missing – TIA]
Last updated on: 3 December 2015