Leon Trotsky

Conversation with
Paul-Henri Spaak [1]

Letter to L. Lesoil

(February 1934)

Written: February 1934.
Publisher: From Revolutionary History, Vol.7 No.1.
Translated: Ted Crawford.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2002.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: David Walters.

18 February 1934

Dear Friend,

I have had a long conversation from your cousin in Brussels and I want to give you a brief account of it.

I tried to explain to him the misunderstanding with the publication of my letter to you in Holland. He replied in a calm and frank manner that he did not at all contest the right to criticise him even publicly. This little explanation made a favourable impression on me. Basically it was the question of union activity which formed the most important part of the conversation. The union bureaucracy is the most formidable barricade of reaction. The Party opposition is condemned to powerlessness in as much as it cannot find, or to put it better, cannot create a solid base in the unions. Vandervelde says “If I had to choose between our unions and Spaak for example, I would have no difficulty.” So, the power of the union bureaucracy must be worn down. This means the start of “illegal” work because one can do nothing in the unions without clandestine activity, at least up to the point where one can become someone. The work must be carried out in such a way that the immediate and direct responsibility does not fall on the leaders of the political opposition. It seems that it is above all on this approach that an agreement could be established between our comrades and the Party Opposition. At all costs this ignoble, greedy and stupid bureaucracy which hangs on to its privileges while suspended over the abyss must be compromised.

My questioner was very interested in the question of the intermediate classes. On this point I explained to him the same ideas which are found in my letter to you and – on another level—on the theses against the war. I drew his attention to the fact that the plan contained no serious programme in favour of the petty bourgeoisie (peasants, artisans, small shopkeepers). Apart from the expropriation of landed property, the programme could and should declare that the working class has no intention of expropriating small artisans and small shopkeepers but, on the contrary, by the nationalisation of the banks it will lift the crushing burden of debt and that, in its plan for production and distribution it foresees giving to both small shopkeepers and artisans favourable credit, state purchases until the time when they themselves would find it more advantageous to join the nationalised economy. The absence of all these ideas and promises in the programme are explained by the fact that De Man and Co. only concern themselves with the parliamentary leaders of the petty bourgeoisie and not the deeper levels of the class.

I insisted a great deal on the necessity, not only of raising the slogan of the workers militia (for defensive purposes) also to try tirelessly to build it while at the same time studying the enemy forces, their dispersal, their possible plans etc. I believe that is the second area where there could be a close collaboration between our friends and the Socialist opposition.

So that is about the nub of our conversation. We agreed to go on corresponding. I should add that he spoke of our Belgian friends, above all Lesoil and Vereeken, with the greatest admiration.

I am sorry that I have not received La Voix Communiste for at least two months. There must have been some misunderstanding. Could you look into it?


1. Letter in French (8864) from the Houghton Library.

Trotsky on Belgium

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Last updated on: 22.2.2007