Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain
Volume III

Trotskyism versus Centrism in Britain

Questions of Perspective

The situation in Britain can likewise be termed, with a certain degree of justification, pre-revolutionary, provided it is strictly agreed that a period covering several years of partial ebbs and flows can elapse between the pre-revolutionary and the immediately revolutionary situation. The economic situation in Britain has reached extreme in the economic acuteness. Still, the political superstructure this arch-conservative country extraordinarily lags behind the changes in its economic basis. Before having recourse to new political forms and methods, all the classes of the British nation are attempting time and again to ransack the old storerooms, to turn the old clothes of their grandfathers and grandmothers inside out. The fact remains, that despite the dreadful national decline there does not exist in Britain as yet, either a revolutionary party of any significance or its antipode – the Fascist party. Thanks to these circumstances, the bourgeoisie has had the opportunity of mobilizing the majority of the people under the “national” banner, that is, under the most hollow of all possible slogans. In the pre-revolutionary situation, the most dull-witted of conservatisms has acquired tremendous political predominance. It will in all probability take more than one month, perhaps more than one year, for the political superstructure to become adapted to the real economic and international situation of the country.

There is no ground for assuming that the collapse of the “national” bloc – and such a collapse is inevitable in the relatively near future will lead directly to the proletarian revolution (it is a matter of course, that there can be no other revolution in Britain) or to the triumph of “Fascism”. On the contrary, it may be assumed with much greater probability that on. her path to the revolutionary solution Britain will go through a lengthy period of the radical-democratic and social-pacifist demagogy la Lloyd George and of Labourism. There can therefore be no doubt that Britain’s historical development will grant British Communism ample time to transform itself into the genuine party of the proletariat by the time it is confronted with the solution. From this, however, it does not at all follow that we can afford to continue losing time with disastrous experiments and centrist [1] zigzags. In the present world situation, time is the most precious of raw materials.

From Germany: The Key to the International Situation
(dated 26th November 1931),
Byulleten Oppozitsii, November-December 1931

* * *

But there is yet another important tactical conclusion drawn from the “third period” [2] which is expressed by Molotov [3] in the following words:

“Now, more than ever before, the tactic of coalitions between revolutionary organizations and organizations of reformists are unacceptable and harmful.” (Pravda, 4th August 1929)

Agreements with reformists are impermissible now “more than ever before”. Does this mean they were impermissible before? How then can the whole policy of 1926-1928 be explained? And why exactly have agreements with reformists which are impermissible in general become especially impermissible now? – Because, as they explain to us, we have entered a phase of revolutionary upsurge. But we cannot help recalling that the formation of the bloc with the General Council of the British trade unions was in its time justified precisely by the fact that Britain was entering a period of revolutionary upsurge and that the radicalization of the British working masses was driving the reformists leftwards. Upon what occasion was yesterday’s tactical wisdom of Stalinism turned upon its head? We would seek a solution in vain. All that can be said is that the empiricists of centrism burned their fingers in the experience of the Anglo-Russian Committee [4] and wish by making a solemn oath to protect themselves from such a scandal in the future. But oaths will not help. Our strategists have to this day not understood the lessons of the Anglo-Russlan Committee.

The mistake lay not in concluding an episodic agreement with the General Council which in actual fact did “turn left” in that period (1926) under the pressure of the masses. The first and initial error lay in that the bloc was founded not upon concrete practical tasks but upon general pacifist phrases and false diplomatic formulas. But the chief error, which grew into a gigantic historic crime, lay in the fact that our strategists proved unable to break immediately and publicly from the General Council when the latter turned its weaponry against the General Strike, that is, when it turned from unsteady half-ally into an open enemy.

From The Third Period of the Mistakes of the Comintern
(dated 26th January 1930),
Byulleten Oppozitsii, January 1930

* * *

Two comrades, Ridley and Chandu Ram, have worked out theses dedicated to the situation in Britain, the Left Opposition [5] and its relations to the Comintern. The authors consider themselves supporters of the Left Opposition despite their having serious differences with it. In their document they defend several times the necessity of an open and free inner criticism. This is absolutely correct. This free and open criticism we will employ therefore in relation to their own theses.

1. “Great Britain is at the present time in a transitional phase between democracy and fascism”. Democracy and fascism are here considered as two abstractions without any social determinants. Evidently the authors wish to say: British imperialism prepares itself to free her dictatorship from the decomposing parliamentary covering, and to enter upon the path of open and naked violence. In general this is true, but only in general. The present government [6] is not an “anti-parliamentary” government: on the contrary, it has received unheard of support from “the nation”. Only the growth of the revolutionary movement in Britain can force the government to tread the path of naked, ultra-parliamentary violence. This will without doubt take place. But at the present time this is not so. To place today the question of fascism on the first plane is not here motivated. Even from the standpoint of a distant perspective one can doubt in what measure it is in place to speak of “fascism” for Britain. Marxists must, in our opinion, proceed from the idea that fascism represents a different and specific form of the dictatorship of finance capital, but it is absolutely not identical with the imperialist dictatorship as such. When the “Party” of Mosley and the “Guild of St. Michael” [7] represent the beginnings of fascism, as the thesis declares, it is precisely the total futility of both named groups that shows how unwise it is to reduce already today the whole perspective to the imminent coming of fascism.

In the analysis of the present situation in Britain, we should not preclude the variants through which the rule of conservatism will pass, not directly to the dictatorship of open violence, but will put forward, as a result of a swift parliamentary dislocation to the Left, through any block of Henderson and Lloyd George [8], a transitory government of the British Kerenskiade. Lloyd George counts, manifestly, on the inevitable Left turn of open opinion and precisely, therefore, does not fear to remain today in a futile minority. [9] In what degree the British Kerenskiade is probable, how durable it will be, etc., depends on the further development of the economic crisis, on the tempo of the bankruptcy of the “national” government, and, mainly, upon the speed of the radicalization of the masses.

Obviously, the Kerenskiade, when it appears, must for its own part uncover its insufficiency and consequently push the bourgeoisie along the road of open and naked violence. In this case, the British workers must convince themselves that their monarchy is not just an innocent and decorative institution: the King’s power will inevitably become the centre of the united imperialist counter-revolution.

2. A profound error is to be found in the second paragraph, directed against activity in the trade unions with the object of their capture, which for a Marxist and Bolshevik is obligatory. According to the thought of the thesis, the trade unions from their origin represent “imperialist organizations”. They can live so long as they benefit by the super-profits of British capitalism; now, when her privileged position is forever lost, the trade unions can only disappear. To struggle to capture the present trade unions is nonsense. The revolutionary dictatorship will, in the proper time, build new “economic organizations”.

In this judgement there is nothing new. It renews long ago clarified and rejected propositions. The trade unions are not considered by the authors as the historic organization of the British proletariat, which reflects its destiny, but as a creation which from its inception is penetrated with the sin of imperialism. But the trade unions have had their rich and instructive history. They had previously carried on a heroic struggle for the right to organization. They gloriously participated in the Chartist movement. They led the struggle for the shorter working day, and these struggles were recognized by Marx and Engels as having great historical importance. A number of trade unions entered the First International. [10] Alas, history does not exist for our authors. In all their opinions, there is not a drop of dialectics. They limit themselves under metaphysical principles: “fascism”, “democracy”, “imperialist organizations”. To the living and real processes they oppose their own inventions.

We hear from them that the leaders of the trade unions did not betray the General Strike of 1926. To acknowledge them as “betrayers’ would indicate acknowledgement that they were previously “revolutionary”. See what kind of a Derby metaphysics runs! The reformists have not always betrayed the workers. In certain periods and under certain conditions, the reformists carried through some progressive work, insufficient though it be. The epoch of imperialist decline snatches the rug from under the reformists. That is why the reformists, insofar as they are forced to attach themselves to the movement of the masses, betray it at a certain stage. Even so, the masses accept the conduct of the reformists. To this living conception of the masses, the authors oppose the theory of the original sin of the trade unions. This theory is remarkable in that it does not allow a betrayer to be called a betrayer.

Since 1920, the trade unions have lost more than 40 per cent of their membership. The authors, therefore, say that in the course of the next two years they will lose another 40 per cent. When these 80 per cent of workers come to communism, comrades Ridley and Ram have not a dozen workers behind them. The trade unions still embrace millions of workers who in 1926 demonstrated that they are capable of carrying on a revolutionary struggle. We must look for the workers where they are to be found today, and not where they may be tomorrow – the organized as well as the unorganized. The question does not go so far as the economic organizations which the future revolutionary dictatorship will create, but rather to the present British worker, without whom to speak of the dictatorship of the proletariat signifies playing with phrases. Can in reality the workers enter the path of insurrection in one leap, without in the preceding period deepening its struggle against capitalism, without radicalizing themselves, their methods of struggle and their organizations? How can the revolutionization of the working class take place outside of the trade unions, without reflecting itself inside of the trade unions, without changing its physiognomy, and failing to call forth a selection of new leaders? If it is true that the trade unions originated on the fundamentals of the capitalist super-profits of Great Britain – and this is so to a limited degree – so must the destruction of the super-profits radicalize the trade unions, understood, of course, from below and not from above, understood in the struggle against the leaders and traditions. This struggle will be all the more successful if the Communists participate in it.

The authors of the thesis go so far as to identify the struggle for the trade unions with the Anglo-Russian Committee. An overwhelming argument! The Left Opposition accused Stalin, Tomsky [11] and Company that through the political friendship with Citrine, Purcell, Cook [12] et al. the communists in the trade unions were hindered from unmasking these traitors. Comrades Ridley and Ram bring forth a new discovery: To unite with the betrayers and to unmask them before the masses – are one and the same thing. Can we take such arguments seriously?

The American comrade, Glotzer [13], in speaking of the necessity of working in the trade union organizations for their conquest, appeals in absolute correctness to the pamphlet of Lenin’s Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. To this comrades Ridley and Ram answer with four objections:

  1. They ask for arguments and not appeals to authorities. This is right. But the pamphlet of Lenin’s contains many arguments which their thesis entirely fails to answer.
  2. The authors deny Roman Catholic dogmas of infallibility. We agree with that. But we counsel them to begin with a criticism of the infallibility. of their own gospel.
  3. “Lenin was neither God nor an infallible Pope!” This is a repetition of the preceding argument. Without a Pope, Lenin successfully struggled against metaphysics and sectarianism.
  4. Lenin wrote in the year 1920. The situation since then has changed considerably. But the authors abstain from explaining in what these changes really consist, aside from considering their allusion to the diminishing membership of the trade unions, which does not have a decisive significance.

We see that the arguments of the authors have an extremely abstract even a purely formal character. The allusion to the year 1920 is in direct opposition to the fundamental thoughts of the thesis. If the trade unions from their origin were and remain to this day pure imperialist organizations incapable of revolutionary deeds, the allusion to the year 1920 loses all significance. We would have to say simply that the attitude of Marx, Engels and Lenin was false to the roots.

3. The third paragraph is dedicated to the Comintern. The authors stand for the creation of a Fourth International [14], and, here too, manifest the fundamental quality of their thoughts: absolute metaphysics. We reply that Engels, after Hegel [15], understood metaphysics as considering phenomenon, fact, power, tendencies, etc., as unchangeable substances, and not as developing processes and, therefore, developing in constant contradictions. If the trade union is a vicious imperialist substance from below to above, in all epochs and periods, so likewise the Comintern is for our innovators a vicious bureaucratic substance. The inner processes of the Comintern, the inevitable contradiction between the masses of members and the bureaucratic apparatus, are entirely left out of consideration in their calculations. The authors ask us: Do we believe that the bureaucracy under the influence of our thesis will surrender their interests? And is such a supposition to be described as idealism or materialism? inquire further Ridley and Ram with inimitable irony, not observing that their own posing of the question must be characterized as lifeless metaphysics.

The bureaucracy is very strong, but it is certainly not as omnipotent as Ridley and Ram believe. In the USSR, the sharpening contradictions of economic development Pose ever more before the millions of members of the party and youth, the fundamental questions of programme and tactics. Insofar as the bureaucrats will not be able to solve these contradictions. the millions of communists and young communists will be forced to think independently of their solution. To these masses we say today, and we will say tomorrow: “The centrist bureaucracy conquered the apparatus of the party, thanks to certain historic conditions. But you, worker-communists. hold to the party. not in the name of the bureaucrats but in the name of its great revolutionary past and its possible revolutionary future. We understand you fully. The revolutionary workers do not leap from organization to organization with lightness, like individual students. We Bolshevik-Leninists are fully ready to help you worker-communists regenerate the party.”

Supporting the German Communist Party are millions of workers. The catastrophic crisis in Germany places before it revolutionary problems as problems of life or death. On this ground without doubt will develop a deeper and deeper ideological struggle in the party. If the few hundred Left Oppositionists remain on the side, they will become transformed into a powerless lamentable sect. If, however, they participate in the inner ideological struggles of the party, of which they remain an integral part despite all expulsions, they will win an enormous influence among the proletarian kernel of the party.

No; the Left Opposition has no reason to tread the path which Ridley and Ram call for. Within the Comintern – even when one does not consider the USSR – are to be found tens of thousands of workers who have lived through serious experiences, through a whole stream of disillusionments, and are forced to search for correct answers to all fundamental questions of politics. We must approach these workers and not turn our backs to them. It would be very sad if the critical members of the official British Communist Party would imagine that the opinions of Ridley and Ram represent the opinions of the Left Opposition.

4. The authors of the thesis accuse the Left Opposition, especially the American League [16], of “absurdly over-rating” the importance of the British Communist Party. In no way do we over-rate its importance. The last elections sufficiently, clearly and openly exhibited the weakness of the British Communist Party. But the Left Opposition in Great Britain is today many hundred times weaker than this weak party. Ram and Ridley have as yet nothing. Supporting them are nobody but individuals who are not bound up with the struggle of the proletariat. Have they really attempted to draw an honest criticism of the Party? Where is their activity? Where are their programme theses? Have they held discussions with the rank and file of the party? Have they tried to convert them and win them to their support? Have Ram and Ridley, out of the 70,000 voters for the official party, 700 or even 70 supporters? But in spite of this they are ready to organize the Fourth International. The proletariat must believe in them implicitly – on credit, that they are really capable of building an International and leading it.

The entire posing of the question is absolutely wrong. To this we must add that if the Left Opposition entertained this pernicious error and decided to create a Fourth International comrades Ridley and Ram who differ with us on fundamental questions, must openly and immediately build a Fourth International.

5. The paragraph which concerns itself with India, also suffers an extraordinary abstraction. It is absolutely indisputable that India can accomplish its full national independence only through a really great revolution which will put in power the Indian proletariat. Another path of development is imaginable only, in this case, if the proletarian revolution in Britain comes to victory prior to the revolution in India. In such an event, the national liberation of India would come before – one must suppose for a short time only – the dictatorship of the proletariat uniting with it the poor peasantry. But from these perspectives, which are absolutely correct, it is still a long way to say that India is already ripe for the dictatorship of the proletariat, that the proletariat have outlived their transitory illusions, etc. No: before Indian Communism stands a task not yet begun. The Bolshevik-Leninists [17] of India must accomplish an immense, audacious, daily and difficult work. They must penetrate into all organizations of the working class. The first cadres of worker-communists must be trained. There must be participation in the “prosaic” life of the workers and their organizations. There must be study of the relations existing between the cities and the rural districts.

To fulfil such a work, naturally programmatical and tactical theses are necessary. But it would be incorrect to begin to work with the convention of an international conference over the question of India, as our authors propose. A conference without sufficient preparation will produce nothing. If the Indian Left Oppositionists will occupy themselves with the selection of recent material and working it up, or at least translate it into one of the European languages (strikes, demonstrations, matters of the peasant movement, the parties and the political groups of the different classes, the activity of the Comintern, its appeals and slogans), they will do such an important work, greatly facilitate the possibility of a collective elaboration of the programme and tactics of the proletarian vanguard in India.

One must begin with the building of a serious nucleus of the Left Opposition of Indian comrades, who must stand upon the point of view of the Bolshevik-Leninists.

From The Tasks of the Left Opposition in Britain and India
(dated 7th November 1931),
The Militant, 12th December 1931

* * *

1. For an analysis of a situation from a revolutionary point of view, it is necessary to distinguish between the economic and social premises of a revolutionary situation and the revolutionary situation itself.

2. The economic and social premises for a revolutionary situation begin, generally speaking, at that moment when the productive forces of the country are going not up but down, that is diminishing; when the specific weight of a capitalist country on the world markets is systematically reduced and when the incomes of the classes are likewise systematically reduced; when unemployment becomes not a conjunctural event of fluctuation but a permanent social evil with a tendency to growth. All the foregoing characterize the situation in Britain completely and we can affirm that the economic and social premises for a revolutionary situation exist there in this form and are always becoming more and more acute. But we must not forget that the expression, revolutionary situation, is a political term, not alone sociological. This explanation includes the subjective factor, and the subjective factor is not only the question of the party of the proletariat. It is a question of the consciousness of the whole class, foremost, of course, of the proletariat and the party.

3. The revolutionary situation, however, begins only from the moment that the economic and social premises of a revolution produce a break in the consciousness of society and its different classes. What must be produced in this way for creating a revolutionary situation? (a) In every situation which we must analyse, it is necessary to distinguish three classes of society; the capitalists, the middle class (or petty bourgeoisie) and the proletariat. Those changes in the consciousness of these classes in order to characterize a revolutionary situation are very different for every one of these classes. (b) That the economic situation is very acute, the British proletariat know very well, far better than all theoreticians. But the revolutionary situation begins only at the moment when the proletariat begins to search for a way out, not on the basis of the old society but along the path of a revolutionary insurrection against the existing order. This is the most important subjective condition for a revolutionary situation. The acuteness of the revolutionary feelings of the masses is one of the most important measures for the ripeness of the revolutionary situation. (c) But a revolutionary situation is one which must, in the next period permit the proletariat to become the ruling power of society, that depends in Britain, less than in any other country, but also there to a degree, on the political thoughts and feelings of the middle class; the revolutionary situation would be characterized by the loss of confidence of the middle class in all the traditional parties (including the Labour Party, which is reformist), and its turn of hope to a radical, revolutionary change in the society (and not a counter-revolutionary change, viz., a fascist change). (d) Both the changes in the consciousness of the proletariat and the middle class correspond to the change in the consciousness of the ruling class which sees that it has not the means to save its system, loses confidence in itself, decomposes and splits into factions and cliques.

4. It cannot be foreseen or indicated mathematically at what point in these processes the revolutionary situation is totally ripe. The revolutionary party can only establish that fact by its struggles, by the growth of its forces, through its influence on the masses, on the peasants and the petty-bourgeoisie of the towns, etc., and by the weakening of the resistance of the ruling class.

5. If we adapt these criteria to the British situation we can see: (a) That the economic and social premises, as we stated, are existing and becoming more effective and acute. (b) The bridge, however, from these economic premises to the psychological results has not been crossed. For the revolutionary situation in Britain it is not necessary for great changes in the economic conditions, which are already unbearable, to come about. What is necessary is a new adjustment of the consciousness of the different classes to this unbearable catastrophic situation in Britain.

6. The economic change of society is very slow and is measured by centuries and decades. But when the economic conditions are radically changed a transformation of the retarded psychological factors can be produced very quickly. However, quickly or slowly, such changes must inevitably be effected in the consciousness of the classes. Only then can we have a revolutionary situation.

7. In political terms it signifies: (a) That the proletariat must have lost its confidence not only in the conservatives and liberals, but also in the Labour Party. it must concentrate its will and its courage for revolutionary aims and methods. (b) That the middle class must lose its confidence in the big bourgeoisie, in the lords and turn their eyes to the revolutionary proletariat. (c) That the rich classes, the ruling cliques, rejected by the masses lose confidence in themselves.

8. These phenomena will inevitably come. However, they do not exist today. They can come in a short period of time through the acute crisis. They can arrive in two or three years, or perhaps only a year. But this is a perspective and not a fact today. We must base our policy on the facts of today and not of tomorrow.

9. The political conditions of a revolutionary situation are developing more or less parallel and simultaneously but this does not signify that they all become ripe at the same moment – there is the danger of the British situation of tomorrow. In the ripening political conditions, the most retarded is the revolutionary party of the proletariat. It is not excluded that the general revolutionary change of the proletariat and the middle class. and the political decomposition of the ruling class, will develop more quickly than the ripening of the Communist Party. It signifies that it does not exclude after tomorrow a genuinely revolutionary situation without an adequate revolutionary party. It would be to a certain degree, a reproduction of the situation in Germany of 1923. [18] But to affirm that Britain is in such a situation today is absolutely false.

10. We say that it is not excluded that the development of the Party can remain retarded in relation to the other elements of the revolutionary situation, but that is not in any case inevitable. On this question we cannot make any prognosis, but the question is not merely a question of prognoses. It is a question of our own action.

11. How much time will the British proletariat need in the present state of capitalist society to break up its connections with the three bourgeois parties? By a correct policy of the Communist Party, it is entirely possible that its growth will take place in proportion to the bankruptcy and decomposition of the other parties. It is our aim, it is our duty to realize this possibility.

Conclusions: That explains sufficiently why it is totally false to affirm that Britain is now between democracy and fascism. The era of fascism begins seriously after an important and, for a certain time, decisive victory of the bourgeoisie over the working class. But the great struggles in Britain are not behind us, rather ahead of us. As we discussed in another connection, most probably the next political chapter in Britain, after the decomposition of the National Government and the Conservative government which will probably succeed it, will be a Liberal-Labour reformist era which can, namely in Britain, become in the near future more dangerous than the spectre of fascism. We called this period, conditionally, the British Kerensky phase.

But it is necessary to add that the Kerensky phase is not obliged to be in every situation, in every country, as weak as the Russian Kerensky phase. The weakness of the Kerensky phase there was a result of the great power of the Bolshevik Party. We see now, for example, in Spain [19] that the Kerenskiade – the coalition of the liberals and the “socialists’ – is by no means as weak as it was in Russia, and this is the result of the weakness of the Communist Party, which is thereby becoming a great danger to the Spanish Revolution. The Kerensky phase signifies for us the employment of reformist, “revolutionary”, “democratic”, “socialist” phrases, certain secondary democratic and social reforms, while at the same time carrying on repression against the left wing of the working class.

This method is contrary to the method of fascism, but it serves the same aim. To condemn the future Lloyd George era to a weakness, is only possible when we are not hypnotizing ourselves with the spectre of fascism which is further away than Lloyd George and his instrument of tomorrow – the Labour Party. The danger of tomorrow can become the reformist party, the bloc of the liberals and the socialists; the fascist danger is still in the third or fourth stage away. The struggle to eliminate the fascists and to eliminate or reduce the new reformist period signifies for the Communist Party the struggle for the winning of the working class.

Notes from a discussion with Albert Glotzer
of the Communist League of America,
(17th November 1931),
The Militant, 19th December 1931

Volume 3, Chapter 2 Index


1. The Marxist term for those political tendencies in the working class movement which oscillate between a revolutionary and a reformist position. Trotsky used the phrase “bureaucratic centrism” of the Stalinist bureaucracy, before the experience of 1933 demonstrated conclusively that it had gone over to the side of counter-revolution.

2. In 1928 the Stalinists in the Communist International declared that following the “first period” of revolutionary upsurge, and the “second period” of capitalist stabilization, the world was now entering the epoch of the final crisis of capitalism. The policies carried out by the Stalinists at this time included the forced collectivization in the Soviet Union, and ultra-left policies in the capitalist world when the reformists were called “social fascists” and the centrists “left social fascists”. The Stalinists thus refused to co-operate with any other sections of the working class movement in the struggle against real fascism and reaction. For Trotsky’s account of the most disastrous manifestation of these policies see his articles in Germany 1931-32

3. Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov (1890-1986), Bolshevik from 1909 and editor of Pravda in 1917 until Kamenev and Stalin returned from Siberia in February and attacked him for his opposition to the Provisional Government. Under Stalin he became a Politburo member in 1924 and president of the Comintern in 1929. In 1939 he became foreign minister negotiating the pact with Hitler. Under Khrushchev he was expelled as one of the “anti-party” group of old Stalinists.

4. The Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee, established in April 1925 as a result of efforts to heal the split between the Amsterdam-based International Federation of Trade Unions and the Red International of Labour Unions. A delegation of British trade union leaders headed by Purcell visited the Soviet Union in November 1924 and closer unity was suggested by Tomsky on behalf of Soviet Union leaders. In the following April a conference was held in London, a Joint Declaration was issued, and this Committee was established. At the Scarborough TUC of September 1925 this policy was endorsed, and Tomsky was received as a fraternal delegate. Although the Committee met twice before the General Strike of May 1926 it did little even to carry out the limited aim of uniting the two trade union centres. The role of the TUC in the General Strike, among other things returning the contributions of Soviet trade unionists, inevitably provoked a crisis. Three further meetings were held, in Paris in July 1926, in Berlin in the following month and in April 1927. Instead of breaking from the policies of betrayal of the British trade union leaders, the Soviet representatives under the instructions of Stalin argued that the Committee should be made more effective and should campaign on such questions as the threat of war. In the end the Committee was broken up by the action of TUC leaders in 1927 when they refused to hold a full meeting, abandoning their militant cover and entering into a period of even closer collaboration with the employers in the Mond-Turner talks.

5. F.A. Ridley (1897-1994) and Chandu Ram, members of a small group of socialist intellectuals who held meetings in a trade union club in Soho in 1930-1, under the auspices of a Marxist League, not to be confused with a later organization of the same name. Within the group they put forward a series of positions in the wake of the 1931 General Election disaster which were even to the left of the Stalinists during their ultra-left phase. These views, which were sent to Trotsky, are the objects of his attack in this extract. Ram was the name used by an Indian law student who was a member of the Indian National Congress and who died in 1932. Further details on Ridley can be found in the biographical glossary. The tendency represented by their views had only a fleeting and temporary existence.

6. In August 1931, at a time of enormous international economic crisis, a section of the minority Labour government led by MacDonald and Snowden joined the Tories and Liberals to form a so-called “National” government. On 27th October MacDonald called an election, and in an atmosphere of red-baiting and the demoralisation of the working class leadership, the coalition secured a majority of 497 seats, dramatically reducing the number of Labour MPs to 46. The National Government then set about cutting the dole and making various other attacks on working class which its predecessor had found it impossible to carry out. The coalition survived a further General Election in 1935, though it had long since given up the pretence of being anything other than a creature of the Tories who dominated it.

7. The New Party was formed in February 1932 by Oswald Mosley (see biographical glossary). In the 1931 election the party contested 24 seats losing all. The New Party was joined by a number of leading intellectuals such as Harold Nicholson, later National Labour MP, who reports in his diary that Harold Macmillan expressed support for the New Party’s policies although remaining within the Conservative Party. Financial help was given by Viscount Nuffield (William Morris). In 1932 the New Party was renamed the British Union of Fascists after Mosley had been to Italy to study “modern movements” and it lost some of its “respectable support”, at least openly. The “Guild of St. Michael” was a short-lived right wing group that soon disappeared after the formation of British Union of Fascists.

8. Arthur Henderson (1863-1935), a leader of the British Labour Party, who rallied the party to support World War I and became a government minister. He later served as Home Secretary in the first Labour government (1924) and Foreign Secretary in the second Labour government (1929-1931). – David Lloyd George (1863-1945), Welsh Liberal politician, responsible as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) for the introduction of old age pensions, unemployment benefit and sickness benefits; prime minister from 1916 to 1922.

9. I have just received the Resignation Letter of Lloyd George to his parliamentary party, which totally confirms this supposition. – L.T.

10. The International Working Men’s Association, established in London on 28th September, 1864, largely on the initiative of British and French trade union leaders, but also with the participation of a number of socialist exiles who were in London at the time, notably Karl Marx. It was Marx who gave the Inaugural Address saluting the struggles of the working class, particularly in securing the legal ten hour day in 1847. He also drafted the rules which asserted that “the economical emancipation of the working classes is ... the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinated.” Further congresses were held in London in 1865, Geneva in 1866, Lausanne in 1867, Berne in 1869, and The Hague in 1872. By this time, when sections had been established throughout Europe and the United States, a split had developed between the supporters of Marx and the anarchist Bakunin, who opposed, among other things, the struggle for the legal restriction of working hours. Furthermore, Marx separated himself from some of his conservative trade union supporters for his strong support for the Paris Commune of 1871, expressed in his pamphlet, Civil War In France. Thus by the time of the 1872 conference, police repression had ended what internal divisions had begun, and the seat of the International was moved to the United States, its final meeting taking place in Philadelphia in 1876.

11. Leaders of the Comintern at that stage. Mikhail Tomsky (1886-1936) was an old Bolshevik and a trade unionist. Always on the right wing of the Party, he opposed the 1917 insurrection and was closely involved in Stalin’s policies in the mid-20s, particularly on the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee. He opposed the left turn in 1928 along with Bukharin and Rykov and committed suicide after the first of the Moscow Trials.

12. Walter Citrine (1887-1983), British trade unionist; Acting General Secretary of the TUC 1925-26, General Secretary of the TUC 1926-46. – Alfred Purcell, left-wing member of the General Council of the TUC; president of the TUC 1924. – A.J. Cook (1883-1931), British coal miner and militant trade union leader; General Secretary of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain 1924-31.

13. Albert M. Glotzer (1905-1999) was a member of the American Trotskyist movement, closely associated with Shachtman, with whom he left it in 1940. He played a prominent role in organising the Dewey Commission hearings.

14. Trotsky opposed early calls for such an organization made by some of those who considered themselves to be his supporters. It was only when Stalin’s policies in Germany split the working class and allowed Hitler to come to power that the Third International showed it had without qualification gone over to the side of counterrevolution. It was at this point that he began to oppose those, like the ILP and their supporters in the “London Bureau”, who would not break decisively from Stalinism as well as from social democracy. From 1933 until his death Trotsky considered the establishment of the Fourth International, which ultimately took place in 1938, to be the most important task he had to perform.

15. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), German idealist philosopher and dialectician; his method and his philosophy if not his idealism had a major influence on Marx and Marxism.

16. “Communist League” was the title adopted by sections supporting the International Left Opposition in the period before the call to establish a new International in 1933. It was adopted by Trotsky’s followers in the United States under the leadership of James P. Cannon, Martin Abern and Max Shachtman after their expulsion from the CPUSA in 1928. In 1933 the American Communist League changed its name to the Workers’ Party when it fused with A.J. Muste’s Conference for Progressive Labor Action.

17. The name used by Left Oppositionists in the early period to draw the line against the Stalinists’ break from Leninist theory and practice.

18. On 12th October, 1923, amid economic collapse and revolutionary upsurge by the working class throughout Germany, the Communist Party joined the social-democratic governments of the states of Saxony and Thuringia, partly in order to have access to state arsenals to arm the workers. On 21st October a conference of workers’ organisations was called at Chemnitz to organise a general strike against the impending invasion of Saxony by the Reichswehr. The proposal was defeated by the social-democrats and Brandler, the leader of the Communists, called off hastily made plans for a workers’ insurrection by armed detachments throughout Germany. On the 24th Reichswehr units under General Müller entered Dresden, the capital of Saxony, and deposed the state government and disarmed the communist workers’ detachments. The fatal nature of the vacillation and indecisiveness of the immature Communist Party, the responsibility of the Comintern leadership, and the need to draw the lessons of the Russian Revolution, are discussed by Trotsky in Lessons of October, which effectively opened the battle with Stalin through the “literary discussion” it initiated.

19. The 1929 economic crisis was reflected in Spain in the following year the collapse of the military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. During the course of 1931 the constitution was restored, the King followed Rivera into exile and a government was established which consisted of a coalition of liberal bourgeois parties and the Spanish Socialist Party of Francisco Caballero and Indalecio Prieto.

Volume 3 Index

Trotsky’s Writings on Britain

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Last updated on: 1.7.2007