Leon Trotsky

The Discussion with Hennaut [1]

(November 1933)

Written: November 1933.
Publisher: From Revolutionary History, Vol.7 No.1.
Translated: Ted Crawford.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2002.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: David Walters.

16 November 1933

Dear comrades,

It is with great interest that I have just read No.10 of your internal bulletin which confirmed the reports of the negotiations with the Ligue des Communistes Internationalistes. [2] I rejoice at the accuracy with which our comrades have posed the question. Moreover the words of comrade Hennaut [3] have made the most painful impression. As he now is, he at least constitutes a complete model of political and theoretical confusion. There is not a single question, whatever it is, to which he contributes anything at all except doubts, hesitations and fears. That is fatal for someone who wants to be a revolutionary!

The first four Congresses of the Comintern! But there must have been something wrong with them because their consequences were so awful. What exactly did not work? Hennaut does not know. In fact the fault is totally his own. He thinks that the fate of the Comintern was decided, not by the struggle of living social forces but by some original “mistake” that must be found – just like in mathematics. Why not go further and say, “Three Internationals were born from the teachings of Marx and all three were born to fail – we must discover Marx’s ‘fundamental error.’” One can even go further and say that despite science people continue to suffer and endure calamities – it is clear that there is some “fundamental error” in science. The question is posed not in a historical and dialectical way but in a dogmatic fashion, in the spirit of the Catholic Church which explains all the ills of humanity by Original Sin. The theory of Souvarine [4] about the CI is also a theory of original sin. And Hennaut alas has become a disciple of Souvarine and his sterile scholasticism.

According to this same Hennaut – that is to say according to Souvarine – our political line in Germany was wrong from beginning to end. You have to be very impertinent to make such an claim. But where lies our error? Not in our analysis, in our forecasts or in our instructions but when we called upon Communist workers to put pressure on their party and to get it on the right political road. Instead of that we should have said to the workers, “Don’t waste your energy, it is not important, the Comintern is finished.” At the same time Hennaut thinks that the time was not ripe for the foundation of a new International. What practical proposition should we make to the German workers: to reject the old International without building a new one? Alright: we can go to sleep. These pedants cut off from reality see our error as this, that we have not discouraged the workers but done our best to to help them find a way out. Every leader of a strike would do the same. If not there is no leader but a capitulator unworthy of confidence. Hennaut says that the way to re-establish oneself is to start a “discussion” with Souvarine, the Bordhigists [5], Urbahns and other hopeless groups. As if this discussion had not been gone through already, as if it had not been put to the test of events and as if a round table in a “conference”, already clarified in a long theoretical discussion, could add anything to a political experience that is now quite clear.

We must see, says Hennaut, that there is “something” correct about Souvarine and the other “Communist” groups and groupings. He himself cannot decide to say clearly what precisely it is he has found there. But all our daily work consists of looking for a precise answer to every question. We have developed our methods; we have our answers; we have our criticisms of other points of view. Hennaut does not give his approval to this enormous collective work, he leaves on one side all that we have done and proposes to devote himself to “researches” and “discussions” exactly as if we had just been born. A sterile position, completely impregnated with the spirit of Souvarineism!

It is particularly naïve to say that our participation in the Paris conference where we were “seated at the same table” as the Pupists [6] and others represented an “opportunist error”. So for Hennaut what unites is not Marxist principles but ... a table! He says not a word on the content of our statement and our resolution which had four signatures. He forgets, or perhaps he cannot understand that we have kept total freedom of action and criticism vis-à-vis our allies. The fact the that OSP and the SAP voted for the Resolution of the seven [7] without any reservation and hence in a totally erroneous way showed without any possible doubt that our allies lacked the necessary clarity of Marxists. But have not we been the first to proclaim their error in our press? But working together and by criticism we can help our allies to reach the necessary clarity.

The arguments of Hennaut against the struggle for the IV International are not less false and isolated from life than his other reasons. “For the creation of the III International” he says “there had to be a war and the Russian revolution.” Numerous are those who repeat this formula without reflection or qualification. The war did not make easier but on the contrary made the work of revolution enormously more difficult, above all on an international level. That is why all the sceptics like Hennaut considered the slogan for the III International “inopportune” and even “absurd” during the war. Now to some extent Fascism plats the role that the war played in 1914-18 and particularly as it prepares for a new war. But, says Hennaut to us, to create the III International there had to be a Russian Revolution! What a remarkable discovery! But did the Russian Revolution fall out of the sky? For the October victory of the proletariat a Bolshevik party was needed penetrated not by the spirit of Stalin-Kamenev [8] (March 1917) but the spirit of Lenin. In other words Lenin, even at the start of the war in very difficult and unfavourable conditions, had to begin a struggle for the III International without taking any notice of the sceptics and those who hinder and muddle everything. The creation of the III International did not take place at its first Congress in 1919 – that was a simple formality – but in the preliminary process of preparation under the colours of the III International. The deductions for our immediate tasks flow immediately from this historical analogy.

I have not the slightest intention in the world of this letter interfering in your negotiations. If Hennaut’s group, or a part of his group, joins our section I will only rejoice. But Hennaut’s idea that the condition of future success is the reunion of all the oppositional bits and pieces of the III International is radically false. The bits and pieces must be carefully weighed and evaluated, not by the names that they give themselves and their pretensions but by their real political and theoretical content. Those who have something to say will not wait for a general conference at an undetermined date but will publish their ideas in the form of a programme, theses, articles and speeches. Those who call a conference in the future, a conference which must find “something” or discover “something” can only show that they have no ideas at all. I am sure that is as obvious to you as to me.


1. T3621. International Bulletin, ICL, no.12, November 1933. Letter to the leaders of the Belgian section signed by G. Gourov. It concerns an intervention in the negotiations for the reunification of the left Opposition groups in Belgium. In 1930, the Charleroi Federation, led by Leon Lesoil (1892-1942) – 35 militants – broke with the Opposition majority who were abandoning its policy of “reform”. While the old General Secretary of the Belgian CP W. van Overstraeten (1891-1981) withdrew, the rest of the organisation broke into two groups, that of Antwerp led by Leon de Lee (1900-1942) allied to the RSP of Sneevliet and the Ligue des Communistes Internationalistes led by Hennaut (See note below) who was under the influence of Ottorino Perrone alias Vercesi (1897-1957), an active Italian Bordighist refugee in Brussels. The turn of the Opposition in 1933, the adhesion of the RSP and the entry of Sneevliet to the IS opened the possibility of a reunification in Belgium and the internal bulletin of the Belgian section understood the first initiatives in this sense.

2. The Ligue des Communistes Internationalistes found itself outside the international Left Opposition after its break with the Charleroi Federation which had been supported by the latter.

3. Adhemar Hennault (1899-1977) a housepainter and active trade unionist had joined the Belgian CP as a founding member and in 1923 had been the temporary General Secretary. Expelled in 1928 as a “Trotskyist” for having, with the majority of the CC, protested against the repression against Trotsky and the Russian Bolshevik Leninists he was first the administrative secretary of the Left Opposition and then the General Secretary of the ICL.

4. Boris Lifschitz (alias Souvarine – b.1893) a Russian émigré in France had, in the Socialist Party, been one of the first representatives of the left wing supporting the Communist International and was later a delegate of the CP in Moscow. Expelled in 1924 for supporting Trotsky he had been his ally until 1929 and during this period was at the centre of a “Democratic Communist circle”

5. The “Bordigists” were members of the Italian Left Fraction who were inspired by the founder of the PCI Amadeo Bordiga (1899-1970) expelled in 1930 who thought the line of the united workers front and the 3rd Congress of the CI “opportunist”. Hugo Urbahns (1890-1946) had been one of the leaders of the KPD and its “left”. Expelled in 1926 he had been one of the founders of the Leninbund a German version of the Unified Opposition which over time broke up. It described the USSR as “state capitalist”. In 1932 the Belgian LCI called for a broad regroupment of the left oppositionists and entered into relations with the German group of the Austrian Landau, the French Communist Left and what remained of the Leninbund.

6.The “Pupists were members of the Party of Proletarian Unity (PUP) born out of CP right wing oppositions which had been expelled at various times. Its orientation was very opportunist and it tended towards Social Democracy.

7. In spite of a bitter discussion with the representatives of the Left Opposition at the Paris conference, the delegates of the SAP and the OSP had voted for the final general resolution equally with parties like the PUP and the Norwegian DNA who had adopted the resolution adopted by seven organisations in Brussels.

8. Lev B. Rosenfeld, alias Kamenev (1883-1936) an Old Bolshevik, had been, with Zinoviev, allied to Stalin against the Left Opposition and then one of the leaders of the United Opposition opposed to Stalin. Expelled in 1927 he had made a self-criticism and had re-entered the Party but he had been expelled again and had made a new self-criticism. In 1917 between the return from deportation of Kamenev and Stalin and the arrival of Lenin in April the leaders of the Party had adopted a conciliatory line towards the Mensheviks and the provisional Government, going so far as to accept the “National Defence” of Russia. It was this policy that Lenin had demolished in his April Theses.

Trotsky on Belgium

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