Leon Trotsky

Beware Opportunism! [1]

(February 1936)

Written: February 1936.
Publisher: From Revolutionary History, Vol.7 No.1.
Translated: Ted Crawford.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2002.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: David Walters.

9 February 1936

Dear comrades,[2]

I took note of your discussions concerning the candidature of comrade Dauge from the minutes. [3] He said in his conclusion:

“The lists being drawn up, I will use forceful speech before the populace which will oppose them to the leadership. I must sign even if it means considering this commitment a scrap of paper.”

If this declaration can be taken at face value it would seem basically only a stratagem. Unfortunately it is difficult to take this declaration at face value. Why?

  1. For the last few weeks the ASR has changed its attitude. Their paper has become uncertain, hesitant, even ambiguous. On the most important issues they always leave you guessing. This is a very worrying symptom.
  2. “We must manoeuvre” repeats Dauge. He sounds as if he has made this a principle. We reply “We must have a revolutionary policy understood by the masses. Now and then we manoeuvre.”

Let us take a recent example. The attitude to Godefroid. A major lesson is to be drawn from this experience. On 9th Oct 1935 I wrote a letter to comrade Lesoil on Godefroid:

“The relationship between the Jeunes Gardes and the POB are treated in the style of a young centrist big wheel and not of a Marxist. We can be prudent and sober in expressing ourselves, but thought must never be falsified. Godefroid talks of an agreement with the adult party as the rule, and disagreements as an unfortunate exception (“an opportunist policy practised sometimes by the party.”) Sometimes! This is worse than Marceau Pivert. POB policy is the most miserable and reactionary in the whole Second International. Godefroid wants to adapt to this policy and not fight it. That is the reality ... I ask myself what influence do our friends have among the youth? It is a bad mistake to believe that it is enough to write a good article or give a good talk from time to time to ensure the influence of Marxism. We must build cells to influence. In case of war, Godefroid’s JGS will be smashed and scattered. There would only be little well trained and tempered groups left in a struggle not only against patriotism but also against the equivocal centrism of Godefroid.”

Comrade Dauge replied in a letter to Lesoil (17.10.35)

“On the matter of Godefroid my opinion is we must show great prudence. If Godefroid one day (!) risks (!) raising the problem of fractions inside the JGS movement he will find me supporting him energetically. However it is absolutely useless to declare war on him at a time when we ourselves lack militants. We must not overestimate our forces (?). They are very weak. We lack collaborators, speakers and organisers, in a word everything that a powerful movement must have. We are carrying out an often inhuman battle where the best could succumb. As a result it is absolutely useless(!) to alienate(!) the sympathies of certain comrades as long as they can be useful to us(?!!). Evidently if one day(!) Godefroid breaks publicly(!) with us, we must clearly separate from him. But in as much as he keeps his present position(?!) it is useless to start a war with him.”

Well now, some time afterwards Godefroid, as could have been foreseen, unleashed an attack on the ASR taking the youth and also the ASR by surprise. Now, Dauge says “Our present differences with the leadership of the JGS have caused us enormous damage.” The damage is that much greater because we have “manoeuvred” for too long, that is to say, closed our eyes to reality by seeking the line of least resistance and left the field clear for the dubious manoeuvres of Godefroid. We have lost much time. And time is the most precious factor in revolutionary politics.

So what then is the lesson to be learnt? A waiting attitude, passive adaptation and manoeuvring, all incomprehensible to workers, render the best service to our opponents. A revolutionary policy cannot but be offensive with regard to reformists and centrists.

3. In the sphere of pure manoeuvres, the machine is ten thousand times more powerful, cleverer and more experienced than your group. Your whole strength consists of your clarity of ideas and in your revolutionary attitude. In abandoning this supreme advantages for “manoeuvring” you are doomed to perdition.

4. The experience with Liebaers is perhaps rather less conclusive just now but never the less significant. Liebaers is only a petty bourgeois pacifist and rabid anti-marxist (the expulsion of Polk and others despite their conciliatory attitude needs no comment.) The ASR has taken up the defence of the Liga. Very well! But the ASR has gone further. Politically it is identified with the Liga! See what happens to “manoeuvring” in the domain of ideas and principles. In similar ways we can never win over our opponents but we can disorient our own supporters and lose our best friends.

5. In the last ASR we can find an ever so r-r-r-revolutionary formula in a headline by Caballero. [4] That appears to be a trifle but in my eyes it is a very worrying symptom. Caballero has many a time betrayed the Spanish proletariat and several months ago his attitude in court was unworthy of a revolutionary leader. He takes part now in a “Popular Front and signs a joint programme with Az‹na and his cronies. He tacks, he manoeuvres but—en passant—uses resounding formulas. What should our attitude be to him? Denounce his treacherous acts? No, not to use his lying formulas.

In the past there was already in these articles of comrade Dauge this inclination to find imaginary allies in the centrist camp (Zyromski [5], Marceau Pivert). My critical remark on this provoked quite a sharp reply from comrade Dauge. The whole question only interests me in as much as it is a political symptom. One cannot be a political friend of Liebknecht, of Rosa Luxemburg and of Lenin and at the same time of Zyromski and Caballero. How then to explain this interest in figures as equivocal as these? By a tendency to “tack” in the domain of ideas as well? A dangerous tendency!

6. Comrade Dauge insists a great deal on revolutionary defeatism: this is now a cheap formula. Zromski and the Menshevik Dan [6] are for “revolutionary defeatism” ... with certain conditions. The revolutionary attitude of Liebknecht was shown, not by his repetition of the formula of revolutionary defeatism (he never used these words) but by the fact that he knew how to stand up, one against a hundred and ten. Given the vague and colourless character of Action socialiste revolutionnaire in this last period, the insistence on the abstract formula of “revolutionary defeatism” produces a painful impression.

I could also blame comrade Fux who—if I mistake not—looks too much to Godefroid in seeking to influence the top people in the JGS instead of building cells at the base. Without the systematic education of young workers, without the regrouping of revolutionaries, that is to say systematic cell building, work in the reformist parties cannot get serious and long lasting results.

So comrades these are the reasons for which I cannot lightly accept the hypothesis of a simple stratagem. I do not suspect the sincerity of comrade Dauge at all. He really believes he is “manoeuvring”. But in these circumstances he is more likely to be manoeuvred by the apparatus. In this mutual manoeuvring, that apparatus is a hundred times better at it. It will seek to use him and to compromise him, to discard eventually like a squeezed lemon. That is the importance of this question which makes me use by no means diplomatic language. There are some situations where tacking would be a crime.

I would not want to say in practice what electoral terms and conditions to use. I am not sufficiently apprised on the technical questions. But the practical consequences follow logically for comrades better informed that me.

I would only want to add this: the fact that the bureaucracy wants to avoid a split before the elections shows that it has much to fear. Your electoral policy must be all the more decisive. It is not a matter of indifference to know who will take the initiative in a split. Just as the notion of the aggressor is not a matter of indifference in relationships between states. But in any case the question relates only to the form. The form can be a matter for compromise maybe! But no concessions on the essential!


1. Letter in French to the leaders of the Belgian Section, Harvard Library, 7810.

2. Trotsky is replying here to the Trotskyist leaders of the ASR which is a response to a statement signed by Fux.

3. The question debated by the leadership of the ASR was the possible candidature of the JGS leader, Walter Dauge, in the Borinage on a POB list and the problems which adhesion to a opportunist programme and policy inevitably raised for a revolutionary grouping.

4. Francisco Largo Caballero (1869-1946), originally a plasterer, had been one of the principal reformist leaders of the UGT and PSOE in the twenties, an opponent of the Communists, Councillor of State under Primo de Rivera, then Minister of Labour in the Republican Socialist government of Azana. Since 1933 he had become the spokesman of verbal extremism and had become the leader of the “left” of the Party. Action socialiste revolutionnaire of the 12 February 1936 carried a headline as follows: “It was by violence that the bourgeoisie seized the property of the nobility. It is by violence that the toiling masses will destroy the bourgeoisie.”

5. Jean Zyromski (1890-1975) once a driving force of the Bataille Socialiste, a leader of the SFIO federation of the Seine, in May 1935 rallied to the Stalinist position on the “anti-fascist” war. Allied to Pivert for a long time, he had just broken with him.

6. Fedor I. Gourvitch (1871-1947) alias Dan, doctor, Menshevik leader, expelled from the USSR in 1920, in 1935 had edited Theses on War with Zyromski and Otto Bauer who were very close to Stalinist positions.

Trotsky on Belgium

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Last updated on: 22.2.2007