Leon Trotsky

About Manoeuvres [1]

(March 1936)

Written: March 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.

16 March 1936

Dear comrade Dauge [2],

I naturally would not deny the use of this or that manoeuvre towards the class enemy, the reformists included. [3] But the policy of manoeuvring has rules which must be strictly observed.

  1. the manoeuvre must be well understood in all its aspects, at least by the leadership (as a starting point).
  2. The manoeuvre cannot use tricks which are apt to mislead friends without perhaps fooling enemies.
  3. The limits of the manoeuvre must be defined, our own organisation must know what is happening and nothing significant must be undertaken on a purely individual basis.

I must say (because our correspondence would have no value without total frankness) that your explanation does not satisfy me on all these points.

It is clear that the bureaucracy is not going to exclude you purely and simply but will try to drive you into a corner. Questions will be put, you will be asked for details, and you will not be allowed to stay vague (which is already deplorable from a revolutionary point of view). Well, some comrade from the Borinage (I have read the minutes of the discussion) believes that you ... would be happy to make propaganda sharing the slogans of the POB programme. An attitude like that would be fatal. But if you envisage a clear, vigorous propaganda which constantly increases from day to day directed also against the policy of the leaders of the POB, and their ministers etc., then the manoeuvre could turn out as a positive result for the revolutionary party.

Yes, I did say that it was not a matter of “indifference” as to which side initiated the split. But this formulation “not indifferent” signified that this question was not decisive, that it was a procedural question which had to be subordinated to the political content of the struggle. Naturally we must cover ourselves as much as possible by a careful reading of the rulebook etc... But politically the only salvation is a ferocious offensive and an implacable denunciation of the complicity of the POB leaders in the imperialist plot and the complicity of Godefroid and company with the patriot leaders.

You talk of the possibility of having two MPs. [4] Jeune Garde, in publishing your photo, talked of two candidacies too. What does this really mean? To make a bloc between the ASR and the NC of Jeune Garde for the election of two deputies? Or only an attempt by Godefroid to provoke a split in the ASR? On this question the attitude of Action Socialiste Revolutionnaire is not clear. And I continue to consider Godefroid as the most ambiguous and dangerous element in the play of forces within the POB.

I know perfectly well that your forces are modest. [5] But the revolutionary fraction only strengthens itself by clarity. Godefroid for example explains his adaptation to the social patriots by the need to reinforce the organisation. If the ASR starts, for the same reason, to adapt to Godefroid, the only one who will come out of this strengthened will be Belgian capitalism.

To manoeuvre with audacity we must be strong. When we are weak the manoeuvre can turn back on its initiator. The best revolutionary “modesty” is clarity.

I agree with you that it is not recommended to imitate the frog which wanted to blow itself up as big as the ox. But imagine, my dear Dauge, that a frog by clever manoeuvres tried to defeat an ox or even a whole troop of oxen. That would not be “modesty” at all.

On the Liga your explanation does not seem satisfactory to me. [6] To defend the Liga was an elementary duty. But there was a no less important duty: to differentiate ourselves from the confused views of the Liga. In defending the threatened Liga we were obliged at the same time to explain to the readers the irreconcilable antagonism between the pacifism of Liebaers [7] and the Marxism of the ASR. That is the method used by Marx and Lenin. It is still valid.

The same thing goes for Caballero. [8] You says you have taken him as an authority on “a pure tactic”. Do you believe that the Belgian workers will be able to understand such a tactic? I doubt it. They must say to themselves: this Caballero must be a very good lad if we are given him as an example. Thus you will disorient your own readers. At the same time in this manner you will not help your opinions against the Stalinists since they will reply to you: “But we say the same thing as Caballero and we are doing the same as him, that is the Popular Front.” In this way you will be taken in your own trap. You must never play hide and seek with ideas and principles.

The revolutionary defeatism of the ASR is often too abstract since it is reduced to the repetition of general formulas. Today in Belgium revolutionary defeatism consists above all in the duty to denounce the pacifism of Liebaers and capitulationist centrism of Godefroid. Without that the best intentions and the best articles will only serve to prepare the triumph of the social patriots like Godefroid and Liebaers over the ASR.

It is not necessary to say, my dear Dauge, that I would be very happy to continue this mutual discussion.


1. Letter in French to Dauge, Houghton Library Harvard (7665).

2. Trotsky here replies to a letter from Dauge dated 11 March, Houghton Library Harvard (739), which in turn replies to his letter 9th February.

3. Dauge justified the necessity for manoeuvre and claimed in particular to have embarrassed the right of the party by presenting himself at the “poll”, the primary election, against the advice of his comrades. He explained that his policy, far from being opportunism as Trotsky believed, was an “intelligent tactic”.

4. Not only did Dauge count on two being elected (Lesoil and himself) but he specified that, if he had followed the view of Lesoil and Charleroi, the situation would have resulted in catastrophe for nothing was possible without being elected. “We would not have had a single one elected. In such a case we would be rapidly liquidated and the movement of the ASR would have been covered with ridicule.” (Harvard)

5. Dauge had written in a tone which was usual for him “We are only a handful and with our present cadres that we cannot do anything important. That is an elementary truth that you must understand, comrade Trotsky”

6. Trotsky attacked Dauge and the journal of his tendency for identifying with the positions of the Flemish “Liga” (Die Internationale socialistische Anti-Oorlogsliga) a pacifist organisation persecuted by the POB instead of merely defending it.

7. Franz Liebaers (1895-1957) tailor, secretary of the Liga from 1932 and its spokesman.

8. The Action Socialiste revolutionnaire of 12 Feb. 1936 carried as headline a statement by the leading Spanish Socialist Largo Caballero : “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.” Trotsky had bitterly attacked this headline to his comrades in his letter of 9th Feb. Caballero (1869-1946) had by 1933 made a swift turn to the Left.

Trotsky on Belgium

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Last updated on: 22.2.2007