Leon Trotsky

Trotskyism and the PSOP

(July 1939)

Written: 15 July 1939.
Source: The New International [New York], Vol.5 No.10, October 1939, pp.295-302.
Translated: New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Proofread/Editing: Andy Pollack.
Public Domain: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive 2005. This work is completely free to copy and distribute.

WAS WITH REAL INTEREST that I turned to Marceau Pivert’s article, The PSOP [1] and Trotskyism, appearing in the June 9, 1939, issue of the PSOP organ. I had supposed that Pivert would finally submit the differences separating him from the Fourth International to a concrete analysis. Regrettably, from the very first lines I was disappointed. Pivert does not make even an attempt to venture into the field of Marxian theory and class politics. His entire criticism of “Trotskyism” remains on the level of psychology, moralizing, and the rules of politeness. Pivert manifestly avoids any serious discussion of the fundamental problems of the labor movement. This I shall try to demonstrate through patient analysis of all the ideas and even nuances of ideas contained in Pivert’s article, which in its theme is programmatic.

“Claims to Hegemony”

Pivert is ready to collaborate with “Trotskyism,” provided only that the latter abandons all claims to “hegemony” and takes the pathway of “trustful collaboration with all elements that have courageously broken with social patriotism and national communism.” The very counterposing of collaboration to “claims to hegemony” is enough to arouse suspicion. The participation of different tendencies within a party unquestionably presupposes trust in the possibility of convincing one another, learning from one another. If differences arise, every tendency confident of its views will seek to win a majority. Precisely this constitutes the mechanics of party democracy. What other “hegemony” is possible within a democratic party save that of winning a majority to one’s views? After all did not Marceau Pivert and his friends strive to gain a majority at the last congress of the PSOP? And didn’t they obtain it? Didn’t they thereby install their “hegemony” in the party? Was that to their discredit? Pivert’s line of argumentation shows that he considers the “hegemony” of his own tendency as the norm and the law, and any attempt of another tendency to win a majority a violation of the norm, a crime, worse yet – Trotskyism. Where then is democracy?

“Factional Methods”

Having thus proclaimed “hegemony” to be his private monopoly in the party, Pivert thereupon demands that the Trotskyites “abandon factional methods.” This demand, repeated several times, comes somewhat incongruously from the pen of a politician who constantly underscores the democratic nature of his organization. What is a faction?

It is a temporary non-statutory and voluntary grouping of closest co-thinkers within a party, whose aim is to convince the party of the correctness of their viewpoint in the shortest possible period of time. The appearance of factions is unavoidable even in the most mature and harmonious party, owing to the extension of its influence upon new layers, the cropping up of new problems, sharp turns in the situation, errors of the leadership, and so on. From the standpoint of monolithism a factional struggle is an “evil” ; but it is an unavoidable evil and, in any event, a far lesser evil than the prohibition of factions. True enough, attempts at the formation of factions lacking an adequate principled basis in consequence of political immaturity, personal ambition, careerism, etc. are frequently observable, especially in young parties. In all such cases it is the task of the leadership to expose, without recourse to police measures, the hollowness of these enterprises and in that way to discredit them before the party membership. Only in this way is it possible to create profound attachment for the party so that episodic conflicts, no matter how sharp, do not threaten its unity. The existence of factions, in the nature of things, provokes friction and involves an expenditure of energy, but this is the inevitable overhead expense of a democratic regime. A capable and authoritative leadership strives to reduce factional friction to a minimum. This is achieved by a correct policy tested by collective experience; by a loyal attitude toward the opposition; by the gradually increasing authority of the leadership; but never by prohibition of factions, something which cannot fail to invest the struggle with a hypocritical and poisonous character. Whoever prohibits factions thereby liquidates party democracy and takes the first step toward a totalitarian regime.

Building “Cells”

Pivert next demands of the “Trotskyites” that they renounce “building cells commanded from outside.” The possibility itself of such a “demand” arises from a glaring confusion of concepts. Pivert himself doubtlessly considers it the duty of every PSOP member to organize cells in the trade unions to win over the majority of the workers. To the extent that these cells are attacked by the Jouhaux clique, Stalin’s spies and the Sureté Nationale, they are compelled to lead an undercover existence. The PSOP, as a party, retains, I believe, the leadership of these cells in its hands “from outside”. Were the PSOP to renounce such methods of work within the trade unions, within Blum’s party and Stalin’s party, it would thereby abandon the struggle for “hegemony” of the working class, that is to say, its revolutionary mission. I hope that is not the case! Where then are the differences? Pivert is simply scaring himself and scaring the party with the bogie of the Bolshevik method of “cells” without having reflected upon the gist of the problem.

But perhaps it is not a question of that at all, but rather of “Trotskyite” cells within the PSOP itself? We are then merely confronted with a restatement of the charge of factionalism. In this case, however, it is altogether wrong to speak of building cells, since it is open political collaboration which is involved, and an equally open ideological struggle between two tendencies. Assuredly, if the ideological struggle were to be replaced by bureaucratic repressions, then the “Trotskyites” would not only be justified but duty bound in my opinion to resort to the method of undercover cells. À la guerre comme à la guerre! But the responsibility for the existence of undercover cells would in that case fall squarely upon the shoulders of the totalitarian bureaucracy.

“Commanded from Outside”

Just what is implied by “commanded from outside?” Here, too, Pivert mentions no persons, no institutions and no facts (apparently in the interests of politeness). We may assume, however, that he wished to say: “Commanded by Trotsky.” Many, for lack of serious arguments, have resorted to this insinuation. But just what does the term “command” signify in this case? The Stalin bureaucracy commands by dint of power and money. Blum’s machine commands by dint of its ties with the bourgeoisie. The Trotskyites have neither money, nor a GPU, nor ties with the bourgeoisie. How then can they “command?” It is simply a question of solidarity on fundamental questions. Why then the insinuation?

Nor is the expression “from outside” in any way happier. Is that an allusion to people outside the party? Or foreigners? Of what crime are these foreigners guilty? Of expressing their opinions and offering advice? When a serious struggle occurs within a revolutionary party, it inevitably engenders international repercussions. The representatives of one and the same tendency in various countries naturally seek to support each other. What is malicious or criminal about it? On the contrary, it is a manifestation of internationalism. Instead of chiding the “Trotskyites,” one should learn from them!

An Example of “Comradely” Tone

Pivert then goes on to demand of the Trotskyites that they abandon their “means of pressure (?) or corruption (??) or systematic denigration ...” What is implied by the expression “means of pressure?” The apparatus of the party is in Pivert’s hands, and the methods of pressure permitted by that apparatus are by no means alien to Pivert. The opposition has nothing at its disposal, save its ideas. Does Pivert wish to prohibit the exercise of ideological pressure? The term “corruption” has a very precise meaning in the language of politics: bribery, careerism, etc. In my opinion the Fourth International is the last organization one could possibly accuse of such sins. There remains “systematic denigration.” Experience has demonstrated that the vaguer the views of a politician, and the less he endures criticism, the more readily does a trenchant argument seem to him “denigration.” An excess of sensitivity, is a symptom of inner lack of confidence. As a party leader, Pivert should set an example of “trustful collaboration” and yet he permits himself to speak of “corruption.” Let us hold that Pivert’s pen slipped and that he himself will find occasion to make the correction.

Bolshevism and Factions

After refusing the opposition the right to struggle for a majority (“hegemony”) in the party, and in accordance with this prohibiting factions, that is, trampling underfoot the elementary principles of a democratic régime, Pivert is imprudent enough to counterpose the democracy of the PSOP to Bolshevik centralism. A risky contraposition! The entire history of Bolshevism was one of the free struggle of tendencies and factions. In different periods, Bolshevism passed through the struggle of pro and anti-boycottists, “otzovists,” ultimatists, conciliationists, partisans of “proletarian culture,” partisans and opponents of the armed insurrection in October, partisans and opponents of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, left communists, partisans and opponents of the official military policy, etc., etc. The Bolshevik Central Committee never dreamed of demanding that an opponent “abandon factional methods,” if the opponent held that the policy of the Central Committee was false. Patience and loyalty toward the opposition were among the most important traits of Lenin’s leadership.

It is true that the Bolshevik party forbade factions at the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921, a time of mortal danger. One can argue whether or not this was correct. The subsequent course of development has in any case proved that this prohibition served as one of the starting points of the party’s degeneration. The bureaucracy presently made a bogie of the concept of “faction,” so as not to permit the party either to think or breathe. Thus was formed the totalitarian régime which killed Bolshevism. Is it not astonishing that Pivert who so loves to talk about democracy, freedom of criticism, etc., should borrow not from the vital, vigorous and creative democracy of young Bolshevism, but rather from the home of decadent Bolshevism take his bureaucratic fear of factions?

Discipline in Action

The corrective for factional struggle is discipline in action. The party is not a social club but a combat group. If Pivert had stated that the “Trotskyites” were violating discipline in action, that would have been a serious argument. But Pivert makes no such claim, which means that this is not the case.

Pivert’s Faction

The demand to “abandon factional methods” is all the more inadmissable since Pivert himself has wholly at his disposal “hegemony,” without doubt his own faction also, his own undercover meetings (for example, in the struggle against Trotskyism), etc. The only difference lies in this, that “Trotskyism” deals its blows against the right and Pivert against the left.

The Fourth International and Factions

In complete contradiction with reality, Pivert depicts the régime in the Fourth International as a régime of monolithism and blind submission. It would be hard to invent a caricature more fantastic and less scrupulous. The Fourth International has never prohibited factions and has no intention of doing so. Factions have existed and do exist among us. Controversy occurs always over the content of the ideas of each faction, but never over its right to existence. From the standpoint of Bolshevik ideas on party democracy I would consider it an outright scandal to accuse an opponent, who happened to be in the minority, of employing “factional” methods, instead of engaging in discussion with him over the gist of the question. If the differences are serious ones then factional methods are justified. If the differences are not serious then the adversary will find himself discredited. The factional struggle can result only in a more profound principled fusion or a split. No one yet has invented another alternative, if we leave aside the totalitarian regimes.

Verification of a Concrete Question

On the question of entry into the PSOP, for example, one could least of all discover among the “Trotskyites” “monolithism” or “blind submission.” Our French comrades for a long time passionately discussed the question and in the end they split. What was my personal attitude in the matter? Let me state frankly – I hesitated. A few months ago I expressed myself in a private letter rather negatively. This did not prevent an influential group of French comrades under the leadership of Rous from entering the PSOP. I believe they have been proved correct.

A part of our French section has obviously revealed organizational conservatism and sectarianism. It would be an astonishing thing if under present political conditions such tendencies did not manifest themselves among those of the hounded and persecuted extreme left. Irrefutable facts testify that the Fourth International struggles against sectarianism and moreover with increasing success. A split is of course a regrettable episode, but nothing more than an episode. If the PSOP continues to evolve in a revolutionary direction (and we heartily hope that it will), it will draw into its ranks the dissident section of the “Trotskyites.” If under the pressure of the bourgeoisie, social patriots and Stalinists the PSOP expels the “Trotskyites”, unity will be reestablished outside of the PSOP

“Leader Party”

Generalizing his views on the party Pivert writes: “To the conception of a leader – party, a kind of centralized staff which prepares under cover of conspiracies a so called (?) revolutionary action we prefer the conception of a party wide open to the real mass movement and offering the revolutionary vanguard all the possibilities of direct contact with the widest possible layers of the worker and peasant proletariat.” As always, Pivert remains in the realm of abstractions and nebulous formulas. What “leader party” is referred to here? Is it the old Bolshevik Party? If so, why isn’t this stated openly? Is it possible to educate workers by anonymous allusions? Furthermore, these allusions are false to the core. There has never been a party in history with a profound internal democracy, which was distinguished by such awareness, boldness and flexibility in approaching the masses as the Bolshevik Party. Pivert still can only promise to establish contact with “the broadest possible layers;” while the Bolshevik Party united millions in action for victory. Incidentally, of what “undercover conspiracies” does Pivert speak so contemptuously? Is it perhaps the preparation of the October insurrection? But in that case he is merely repeating what has always been maintained by liberals, Mensheviks, and Social Revolutionaries.

Bolshevism Alone Built the Revolutionary Party

Organizational conceptions do not of course possess an independent character. But through them, and through them alone, is the programmatic and tactical position completely expressed. To dilettantes of the former Parisian magazine, Masses, and their ilk, organizational questions are reduced to assuring their “hegemony” over a little magazine and of protecting themselves from disagreeable criticism – further than that they do not go. The organization of the Social Democracy was and remains entirely adapted to electoral tasks. To this day Bolshevism alone has been able to find organizational forms suitable for the revolutionary struggle for power. To wave Bolshevism aside by means of clichés without having behind one any other revolutionary experience is inadmissible, frivolous, and ignoble. That is not the way to educate workers!

Rosa Luxembourg

To prop up his organizational views (more exactly, their absence) Pivert of course cites Luxembourg. But that does not advance us greatly. Much can be learned from Rosa; but her organizational views were the weakest points in her position, for in them was summed up her errors in the sphere of theory and politics. In Germany, Rosa was unable to build a revolutionary party or a faction and this was one of the causes for the foundering of the 1918-1919 Revolution (on this point see the article of Walter Held in Unser Wort). As for the Polish Party of Rosa Luxembourg under the influence of the events of the revolution it was compelled to reconstruct itself on the Bolshevik model. These historical facts are far more important than quotations!

Trotskyism in 1904

In 1904 I wrote a brochure, Our Political Tasks, which in the organization sphere developed views very close to those of Rosa Luxembourg (Souvarine quotes this brochure with sympathy in his biography of Stalin). However, all subsequent experience demonstrated to me that Lenin was correct in this question as against Rosa Luxembourg and me. Marceau Pivert counterposes to the “Trotskyism” of 1939, the “Trotskyism” of 1904. But after all since that time three revolutions have taken place in Russia alone. Have we really learned nothing during these thirty five years?

“Libertarian” Promises

The better to recommend his spirit of democracy, Pivert promises that his “method of building socialism will not be authoritarian but libertarian.” It is impossible not to smile sadly at this pompous and vague phrase. Does this formula of “libertarian” socialism signify anarchy, that is, rejection of the dictatorship of the proletariat? But Pivert considers himself a Marxist and not a Proudhonist or Bakuninist. The dictatorship of the proletariat by its very essence is “authoritarian,” otherwise it would not be a dictatorship. It goes without saying that there are limits to “authoritarianism”, that is, within the régime of the dictatorship there are differences. If Pivert wishes to say that he would strive to have the Soviets as the organs of dictatorship preserve the broadest possible internal democracy, then he will only be repeating what the “Trotskyites” have struggled for since 1923. However, for Pivert’s promise to ring more convincingly he should not now be trampling internal party democracy underfoot in the manner of Leon Blum and Paul Faure, refusing the minority its most legitimate rights, prohibiting oppositional factions and preserving “hegemony” as a monopoly for his own faction; he should, in other words, establish at least one tenth of that democracy which distinguished the Bolshevik Party under Czarist illegality and during the first years of the Soviet régime. As long as this is not so, the promise of “libertarian” benefits in the indefinite future carries little value. It recalls somewhat the promise of recompense beyond the grave for sufferings in this world.

* * *

Such are the organizational views of Pivert. They signify in effect a break with party democracy and the substitution of bureaucratic centralism for democratic centralism, that is, the hegemony of the apparatus over ideas. We shall see presently that in the sphere of doctrine, program and politics, things do not go much better.

A Unilateral Demand

Pivert demands, as we know already, “trustful” collaboration with all those elements which have “courageously” broken with social patriotism and national communism. In principle we are prepared to accept such a demand. But unfortunately Pivert himself violates it and in a fashion that cries out. Bolshevism broke with all species of patriotism a quarter of a century before the PSOP. Pivert, however, doesn’t at all reveal a “trustful” attitude towards Bolshevism. The Trotskyites, who have demonstrated the revolutionary character of their internationalism through a long struggle and with innumerable victims, are duty bound to trust Pivert; but Pivert is not at all obliged to trust the Trotskyites. Pivert’s rule is – trust for the right – threats and repressions for the left. But this is the rule of Leon Blum, shifted only a few degrees.

The Break with Social Patriotism

Internationalism is indubitably the fundamental premise for collaboration. Our French comrades have taken into account very seriously the PSOP’s break with the social patriotic party of Blum, otherwise they would not have entered the PSOP But to depict the matter as if a split with a putrified party automatically solves all questions is incorrect. After the break it is necessary to elaborate a revolutionary program and to determine exactly who are one’s friends and one’s enemies. The leadership of the PSOP has not yet done this. And this is not accidental. It is still a long way from having cut completely the old umbilical cord.


The misfortune is that the leaders of the PSOP have not broken “courageously” with social patriotism, for they have not broken with Freemasonry, that important reservoir of imperialist patriotism. The other day I received the excellent pamphlet of Pierre Bailly Yes, Freemasonry Is a Danger. Rejecting all psychological and philosophical hogwash, which hasn’t the slightest value since in the course of its entire development Freemasonry has contributed nothing either to science or philosophy, the author approaches the question in a Marxist manner, that is, from the class standpoint. On the basis of the documents of Freemasonry itself he has irrefutably demonstrated its imperialist, reactionary and demoralizing rôle. [2]

Bailly’s pamphlet is, incidentally, the best proof of the fact that in contrast to all other factions and groups our comrades know how to approach a complex problem as proletarian revolutionists. Even the minor fact that Nikolitch’s pamphlet, hollow and loaded with bourgeois sentimentality, is very well printed while Bailly’s serious work is mimeographed illustrates well enough the social position of centrist and revolutionary ideas.

Social Pacifism

No, Pivert hasn’t at all broken “courageously” with social patriotism and its variation, social pacifism, – otherwise he would not have concluded an alliance against us with Maxton, the leader of the British Independent Labour Party. Between revolutionary Marxism and the imperialist pacifism of Maxton there is an abyss, Fenner Brockway is slightly to the left of Maxton. But, as the entire experience of the Independent Labour Party has demonstrated, Maxton at every critical occasion threatens to resign and Fenner Brockway immediately flops on hands and knees before Maxton. One may shut one’s eyes to this. But the facts remain. Let Pivert explain to the workers just what links him with Maxton against the Fourth International. “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.”


Pivert marches hand in hand with Sneevliet, whose entire politics in recent years has been – with God’s help (!) not to provoke the anger of the Dutch government and not to deprive his sectarian trade union organization of government subsidies. Dozens of times we demanded that Sneevliet’s party elaborate a political platform, that Sneevliet as a member of parliament advance fighting slogans, that agitation among the masses be conducted in a revolutionary spirit. Sneevliet systematically equivocated so as not to break with his conservative government. It is best not to recall the “tone” which this democrat employed in discussions with young comrades. When the Conference of the Fourth International finally convened and at last took up the question of the Dutch section, Sneevliet quit our organization and naturally began complaining about our bad “methods.” Beyond doubt, Pivert’s methods are much better: he keeps silent about the capitulatory politics of Sneevliet and directs his blows against the Trotskyites.

The POUM [3]

Pivert strives to defend the personal memory of Andres Nin against base calumnies and this is of course excellent. But when he depicts Nin’s politics as a revolutionary model then it is impermissible to call this anything but a crime against the proletariat. In the heat of revolutionary war between the classes Nin entered a bourgeois government whose goal it was to destroy the workers’ committees, the foundation of proletarian government. When this goal was reached, Nin was driven out of the bourgeois government. Instead of recognizing after this the colossal error committed, Nin’s party demanded the reestablishment of the coalition with the bourgeoisie. Does Pivert dare deny this? It is not words which decide but facts. The politics of the POUM were determined by capitulation before the bourgeoisie at all critical times, and not by this or that quotation from a speech or article by Nin. There can be no greater crime than coalition with the bourgeoisie in a period of socialist revolution.

Instead of mercilessly exposing this fatal policy Pivert reprints in its justification all the old articles of Kurt Landau. Like Nin, Landau fell victim to the GPU. But the most ardent sympathy for the victims of Stalin’s executioners does not free one from the obligation of telling the workers the truth. Landau, like Nin, represented one of the varieties of left Menshevism, was a disciple of Martov and not of Lenin. By supporting Nin’s mistakes, and not our criticism of these mistakes, Landau, like Victor Serge, like Sneevliet, like Pivert himself, played a regrettable role in the Spanish revolution. Within the POUM a left opposition is now beginning to raise its head (José Rebull and his friends). The duty of Marxists is to help them draw the final conclusions from their criticisms. Yet Pivert supports the worst conservatives in the POUM of the Gorkin type. No, Pivert has not drawn the conclusions of his break with Blum!

“Practical Results”

It is with a disdain sufficiently out of place that Pivert speaks of the “practical results” achieved by Trotskyism as far too insignificant to force him to change his point of view. But just how in our epoch of universal reaction can a revolutionary party become a mass movement? At the present time owing to the avowed bankruptcy of the two former Internationals, the situation is becoming more favorable for the revolutionists. One of the signs is the split of the PSOP from Blum’s party. But we began the struggle a long time before that. If Pivert thought in a critical manner he would understand that without the long preparatory work of the “Trotskyists” in all probability he would not yet have broken with Blum. From the broad historical outlook, the PSOP as a whole is only a by product of the struggle of Trotskyism. Can it be that Pivert considers this “practical result” insignificant?

Reaction and “Trotskyism”

The fact that the Stalinists, as well as the bourgeois police, label every leftward tendency as Trotskyism shows that in the last analysis the entire force of world reaction beats down upon the Fourth International. The GPU maintains a large staff of agents on the one hand for espionage, frame ups and murders and on the other for provoking conflicts and splits in our ranks. Never before in history has there been a revolutionary tendency subjected to such persecution as ours. Reaction understands only too well that the danger is the Fourth International. Only thanks to the relentless criticism and propaganda of the Fourth International have the centrists begun to stir, the left centrists to separate themselves from the right centrists, the latter to demarcate themselves from the avowed social patriots. Several years ago Pivert stated correctly that struggle against Trotskyism was a certain sign of reaction. Sad to say, however, this reaction is drawing him into its ranks.

The Inner Power of the Fourth International

The international organization of Brandler, Lovestone, etc., which appeared to be many times more powerful than our organizations has crumbled to dust. The alliance between Walcher of the Norwegian Labor Party and Pivert himself burst into fragments. The London Bureau has given up the ghost. But the Fourth International, despite all the difficulties and crises, has grown uninterruptedly, has its own organizations in more than a score of countries, and was able to convene its World Congress under the most difficult circumstances, the terror of the GPU (murder of Klement!), and to elaborate its program, to which no one has yet counterposed anything equivalent. Let Pivert attempt to enumerate Marxist publications which in their theoretical level can be placed alongside THE NEW INTERNATIONAL, ClAve, Unser Wort, and other organs of the Fourth International.

All the left groupings which gravitate in the orbit of the London Bureau or thereabouts represent heterogeneous splinters of the past without a common program, with senile routine and incurable maladies. The Fourth International is developing as a grouping of new and fresh elements on the basis of a common program growing out of the entire past experience, incessantly checked and rendered more precise. In the selection of its cadres the Fourth International has great advantages over the Third. These advantages flow precisely from the difficult conditions of struggle in the epoch of reaction. The Third International took shape swiftly because many “lefts” easily and readily adhered to the victorious revolution. The Fourth International takes form under the blows of defeats and persecutions. The ideological bond created under such conditions is extraordinarily firm. But the tempo of growth, at all events in the initial period, remains a slow one.

A Dilettante’s Criterion

Victor Serge says: “You cannot create a workers’ International worthy of the name just by wanting it.” What a smug and at the same time hollow statement! One might imagine that Serge carries in his back pocket all the measurements for an International, exactly as for a pair of trousers. And can a national party “worthy of the name” be built “just by wanting it” ? Does the PSOP, for example, correspond to Serge’s measurements? People who approach the matter with such superficial criteria thereby demonstrate that for them the international is a solemn and pompous institution, something in the nature of a temple. When the magnificent edifice shall have been built (By whom? How?), then they will enter its arch. We approach it in a different manner. The International is for us, like a national party, an indispensable instrument of the proletariat. This instrument must be constructed, improved, sharpened. This is just what we are doing. We do not wait for someone else to do this work for us. We call upon all revolutionists to take part – right now, immediately, without losing an hour. When the Fourth International becomes “worthy of the name” in the eyes of Messrs. Literatteurs, Dilettantes, and Sceptics, then it will not be difficult to adhere to it. A Victor Serge (this one, or another) will then write a book in which he will prove (with lyricism and with tears!) that the best, the most heroic period of the Fourth International was the time, when bereft of forces, it waged a struggle against innumerable enemies, including petty-bourgeois sceptics.

Our Section in the USA

Pivert should beware of hasty conclusions! The PSOP is still far from being a mass party and has not yet had the opportunity of testing the power of its resistance to the pressure of imperialism. On the other hand our various sections have not only proved their viability but have also entered the arena of mass struggles. In the United States, the most powerful capitalist country in the world, the Socialist Workers Party, from a propaganda circle, which it had been for a number of years, is turning before our very eyes into a militant factor in working class politics. The struggle against fascism and the struggle against war are headed by the American section of the Fourth International. One of the chief fascist agitators, Father Coughlin, was recently compelled to devote one of his radio speeches to our American section and its struggle to build workers defense guards. The Socialist Workers Party is engaged in serious work in the trade unions, publishes an excellent twice weekly newspaper, a serious monthly journal, a newspaper for the youth (issued twice monthly) and renders important ideological and material assistance to other sections.

In Belgium

Our section in Belgium, almost wholly proletarian in composition, received some 7,000 votes in the last elections. Each vote in the present background of reaction and chauvinism is worth a hundred votes cast for reformist parties. Let Pivert not be too hasty in drawing a balance sheet! Let him rather attentively read the declaration issued by our Belgian comrades elected at Flénu. But alas! Instead of seeking ties with the Belgian Revolutionary Socialist Party, Pivert lends his ear to bankrupts and sectarians. Is it Vereecken together with Sneevliet and Victor Serge who will hew a highway to the masses?

A Voice From Saigon

In connection with the elections to the Colonial Council held April 30 of this year, the Bolshevik Leninists have written me from Saigon (Indo-China): “Despite the infamous coalition between the Stalinists and bourgeois of all colors, we have gained a brilliant victory. This victory was all the more hard won because the minds of the voters were befuddled for months by the foggy propaganda of a centrist group called ‘October’ ... We marched into the struggle with the banner of the Fourth International fully unfurled ... Today, more than ever before,” the letter continues, “we understand the significance not only of the program of the Fourth International, but also of the struggle of 1925, 1926, 1927, and 1928 against the theory and practice of socialism in one country, the struggle against the Anti-Imperialist League and other pompous parade committees, Amsterdam Pleyel and tutti quanti.”

This voice of the revolutionary workers from Saigon is infinitely more important than the voices of all the London Bureaus and pseudo-“Marxist centers.” The advanced workers of an oppressed country rally to a persecuted International. From the experiences of their own struggles they have come to understand our program and they will know how to champion it. Especially precious and important is the declaration that the advanced Saigon workers understand the meaning of the struggle of the Left Opposition during the years from 1925 to 1928. Only continuity of ideas creates a revolutionary tradition, without which a political party sways like a reed in the wind.

In England and France

In the old colonizing countries, England and France, the labor bureaucracy, directly interested in colonial superprofits, is more powerful and conservative than anywhere else in the world, and the revolutionary masses find it very difficult there to raise their heads. This is the explanation for the extremely slow development of the sections of the Fourth International in these countries. Upon the evolution of the PSOP depends to a large extent whether the revolutionists will succeed there in forcing a serious breach in the wall of betrayal and treachery in the coming months. But no matter how things turn out in this respect, the general course of development leaves no room for doubt. When the most oppressed strata in England and France erupt to the surface, they will not tarry at halfway positions but will adopt that program which gives an answer to the profundity and sharpness of the social contradictions.


Pivert either refuses or is unable to understand that our invincible strength lies in our theoretical thoroughness and irreconcilability. “Trotsky allows in his organization,” writes Pivert, “only those members who accept as dogma (?), and consequently without discussion (?) a systematic reference to the principles elaborated in the first four congresses of the Communist International. Our conception of the party is altogether different.” Subject to all sorts of dubious influences, Pivert attempts to reduce the movement of the Fourth International to a single individual; “Trotsky allows in his organization ...” Pivert couldn’t possibly be ignorant of the fact that the Left Opposition from the very first embraced the flower of the Bolshevik Party; revolutionists tempered in illegality, heroes of the civil war, the best representatives of the younger generation – hundreds upon hundreds of exemplary Marxists who would have done honor to any party. Tens of thousands of “Trotskyites” died a lingering death. Was it really only because “Trotsky allows” or doesn’t allow? Such gibberish should be left to Brandler, Walcher, Lovestone, Sneevliet and other cynics ... but let us return to “dogma.” In the Bolshevik Party differences arose after the first four congresses of the Comintern whose decisions were elaborated with the most direct participation of the future leaders of “the Left Opposition.” A sharp turn towards opportunism was sanctioned by the Fifth Congress. Without renouncing the revolutionary tradition, the greatest in the annals of history, we have nevertheless not made of the first four congresses more than our starting point, nor have we restricted ourselves to them. We have observed, studied, discussed, criticized, worked out slogans and marched ahead. I might cite as proof our theoretical journals, internal bulletins, scores of programmatic books and pamphlets issued in the last fifteen years. Perhaps Pivert can mention a single serious critical work of our opponents which remains unanswered by us? Perhaps Pivert himself and his friends have a criticism of the decisions of the first four congresses not considered by us? Where is it?

In the very same article, Pivert demands of Trotskyists “that they accept the charter (of the PSOP), its structure, its statutes, the decisions of the majority, and oblige themselves to fulfill them without remiss.” This demand is legitimate in itself but does this mean that the charter of the PSOP, its structures, statutes, etc. are “dogma”? Or is it solely the programmatic decisions of the first four congresses that are “dogma”?

Make Believe

Pivert reasons as follows; we must find, uncover, and reject those traits, those peculiarities and shortcomings of classic Bolshevism which Stalinism subsequently seized upon. This reasoning is formalistic and lifeless. Stalinism didn’t at all formally seize always upon the worst traits of Bolshevism. Self-sacrifice is a magnificent quality of a revolutionist. Some of the defendants in the Moscow trials were undoubtedly guided by the spirit of self-sacrifice: to give their lives and even their reputations for the sake of “defense of the USSR.” Does this imply that in place of self-sacrifice it is necessary to inculcate egoism? To this one might reply “it is necessary to develop critical insight”. But that is a commonplace. The Bolsheviks were by no means less capable of critical insight than their latter day critics. But objective historical conditions are more powerful than the subjective ones. When a new bureaucracy in an isolated and backward country rises above the revolutionary class and strangles its vanguard, of necessity it utilizes the formulas and traditions of Bolshevism, qualities and methods inculcated by it, but it charges them with a diametrically opposite social content. Lenin following Marx taught us that during the first stages of socialism elements of inequality will inevitably still remain. The bureaucracy transformed this idea into justification of its gangster privileges. Must we, because of this abuse, unconditionally reject the correct idea of Marx?

The dialectic of the class struggle throughout the length of history has accomplished similar transformations, substitutions, and transfigurations. This was the fate of Christianity, Protestantism, democracy, etc. This in particular was the fate of Freemasonry. It originated in the 17th Century as a reaction of the petty bourgeoisie against the decomposing spirit of capitalist individualism and attempted to resurrect the idealized morality of guild “brotherhood.” In the course of the class struggle it later became an instrument in the hands of the big bourgeoisie for disciplining and subordinating the petty bourgeoisie to its own aims. It is impermissible to approach principles outside of social reality, outside of those classes which support them.

The criticism of Bolshevism which Pivert develops in the wake of Victor Serge and others does not contain an iota of Marxism. It substitutes for a materialistic analysis a game of make believe.

For the Hegemony of Scientific Thought

A serious revolutionist who foresees the grave decisions which the party must make in critical times, feels acutely his responsibility in the preparatory period, painstakingly, meticulously analyzes each fact, each concept, each tendency. In this respect a revolutionist resembles a surgeon who cannot rest content with commonplaces concerning anatomy but must know exactly the articulation of the bones, the muscles, the nerves and the tendons and their interconnection, so as not to make a single false movement with his scalpel. The architect, the physician, and the chemist would regard indignantly any proposal against rendering scientific concepts and formulas more precise, against claiming “hegemony” for the laws of mechanics, physiology, or chemistry, in favor of a conciliatory attitude toward other views no matter how erroneous. Yet this is precisely Pivert’s position. Without plumbing the gist of programmatic differences, he repeats commonplaces on the “impossibility” of any one tendency “claiming to incorporate in itself all truth.” Ergo? Live and let live. Aphorisms of this type cannot teach an advanced worker anything worthwhile; instead of courage and a sense of responsibility they can only instill indifference and weakness. The Fourth International wages a struggle against quackery for a scientific attitude toward the problems of proletarian politics. Revolutionary ardor in the struggle for socialism is inseparable from intellectual ardor in the struggle for truth.

Bolshevism or Menshevism?

To Pivert it seems that we are the representatives of dogmatism and routine whereas he is a proponent of critical thought. As a matter of fact in his criticism of “Trotskyism” Pivert merely repeats the hoary formulas of the Mensheviks without adding to them one original syllable. But Menshevism was also put to a test, and not a minor one. The Bolshevik Party victoriously led the greatest revolution in history. Finding itself isolated, it was unable to withstand the pressure of hostile historical forces. In other words Russian Bolshevism found it beyond its powers to substitute itself for the international working class. Menshevism on the contrary contributed nothing to the revolution except prostration and perfidy. Left Menshevism in the person of Martov signified sincere perplexity and impotence. The historic task posed by October has not been resolved. The fundamental forces participating in the struggle are the same. The choice is not between “Trotskyism” and the PSOP but between Bolshevism and Menshevism. From the starting point of Bolshevism we are ready to march forward. We refuse to crawl back.

The Program of the Fourth International

Pivert finds it necessary in June 1939 to return to the “four congresses,” but we have succeeded already in marching far ahead. Last autumn, a year ago, our international conference adopted the program of Transitional Demands corresponding to the tasks of our epoch. Is Pivert familiar with this program? What is his attitude towards it? For our part we are desirous of nothing so much as criticism. In any “tone” you please, but getting to the heart of the matter!

Here is a concrete proposal which I take the liberty to make “from outside”; to proceed immediately to a discussion and an elaboration of an international program of the proletariat and to create a special publication for an international discussion on this question. As a basis for this discussion I propose the program of the Fourth International, “The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International.” It goes without saying, however, that our International is prepared to accept as a basis for discussion another draft if it is forthcoming. Perhaps Pivert and his friends will accept this proposal? It would undoubtedly be a great step forward!

* * *

I have analyzed Pivert’s article with a meticulousness which might appear to some as superfluous and tiresome. To others the “tone” might again appear too sharp. But I believe, nevertheless, that a detailed explanation, precise and clear, is far greater evidence of a desire for collaboration than diplomatic equivocations supplemented by threats and insinuations. I should like not only Marceau Pivert but also Daniel Guerin to reflect on this. It is necessary to cease feeding on the empty formulas of yesterday. It is necessary to take the road of serious and honest discussion of the program and strategy of the new International.

July 15, 1939


1. Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan (Workers’ and Peasants’ Socialist Party).

2. To avoid any misunderstanding let us point out that Freemasonry has played a different political role in different countries at different epochs. But we are considering here contemporary France with its putrefying capitalism and putrefying democracy; contemporary Irrench Freemasonry fulfills a thoroughly reactionary function.

3. Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification).

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Last updated on: 22.4.2007