Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain
Volume III

Trotskyism versus Centrism in Britain

Open Letter to
an English Comrade

Dear Comrade,

The article written against me in the New Leader of March 20 of this year is sharp but incorrect. The sharpness is good. One must always welcome it when a revolutionary defends his ideas with sharpness and precision. Unfortunately, in spite of all the sharpness I fail to notice the necessary precision.

The polemical article sets itself the task of protecting the “International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity” against my attacks. My criticism of the parties affiliated to the Bureau is said to be totally wrong. These parties are said to be by no means disintegrating, but on the contrary to be showing themselves more and more unified in the international struggle

Let us try to verify these assertions. As far as I am concerned I know of only one single common international action of the London Bureau. That is the creation of the “World Committee for Peace.” I carefully criticized at the time the programme of this committee proposed by the SAP [1] on the basis of their document, and branded it with perfect justification, I think, as an expression of the shallowest petty-bourgeois pacifism. No one, not even the leaders of the SAP, has ever given to this criticism a material and pertinent answer. My point of view, consequently, remains valid. The parties which on the question of war adopt a pacifist attitude cannot be looked upon by a Marxist as revolutionary proletarian parties. Maxton [2], for instance, is a pacifist and not a Marxist. His war policy can perhaps contribute much to the saving of his soul but scarcely to the liberation of the working class.

The above-mentioned Committee was formed of three people: the German Schwab, the Frenchman Doriot (!), and the Spaniard Gorkin. [3] Since then Doriot, the host of the last conference of the so-called Socialist Revolutionary Parties, has gone over with his clique to the reaction. Gorkin fought his election in Spain with a miserable democratic-pacifist programme of the People’s Front. And, the third member, Schwab, has up to now not yet explained that the Committee for Peace was an anti-revolutionary undertaking and that the programme laid down by him, Schwab, of the “Fight for Peace” mocks the whole tecahing of Marx and Lenin in every word. (Incidentally there are still a few lamb-like people who think that they can still convince the minority of the SAP by endless, totally abstract discussion. We certainly believe that Schwab and some other leaders with their reactionary ideas are in the minority – but that this minority is to be won by good words, no, we are really not so naïve as to believe that.)

This, then, is at present the growing capacity of the London Bureau for “united international action.”

I have never put a low value on small organizations merely because they are small. Even here the New Leader twists the Marxist criterion. The mass organizations have value precisely because they are mass organizations. Even when they are under patriotic reformist leadership one cannot discount them. One must win the masses who are in their clutches: whether from outside or from inside depends on the circumstance.

Small organizations which regard themselves as selective, as pioneers, can only have value on the strength of their programme and of the schooling and steeling of their cadres. A small organization which has no unified programme and no really revolutionary will is less than nothing, is a negative quantity. In this sense I have spoken very contemptuously of the small groups in Bulgaria, Rumania and Poland. Their confusion is really too big for their small compass. The revolutionary movement is only injured by them. On the other hand, the smallest of our groups are valuable because they know what they want and because they look back on the great tradition of Bolshevism with which they are internationally closely bound. Sooner or later every one of these groups will show its value.

The Austrian “Red Front”, which had united in itself the really militant worker elements, has united itself ostensibly with the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Austria, i.e., with the old Austro-Marxist Party. [4] Fenner Brockway’s bulletin affirms: “The united party, although it is affiliated to the Second International, supports the anti-war policy of the IBRSU”. This representation of Austro-Marxism is utterly wrong and confusing. Anyone who has read the theses of Messrs. Otto Bauer, Dan and Zyromski [5] knows that Austro-Marxism represents even now nothing else than a cowardly, wretched falsification of Marxism, i.e., has remained completely true to its tradition. The “Red Front” could accomplish revolutionary work in the Austro-Marxist Party under two closely related conditions: firstly, it must itself have clear principles, secondly, it must see clearly the rottenness of Austro-Marxism. Both conditions are completely missing (incidentally, one might mention that the Neue Front, the organ of the SAP, makes propaganda for Der Kampf, the Austro-Marxist organ). Actually the point is that the “Red Front” is being absorbed in the Austro-Marxist slough.

The Norwegian group “Mot-Dag” [6] adopts the point of view of the Locarno Powers [7] and is now preparing to be absorbed in the Labour Party. This group too has been for years nothing else but confusion worse confounded.

It is really hardly worthwhile losing any more words about the Italian section (the Maximalists). [8] It is enough to say that this “revolutionary” organization, together with the Italian Socialist Party (Second International) and the Italian Communist Party (Third International), has signed a common appeal in which it calls on the League of Nations to widen sanctions, and tries to instil into the Italian people that imperialist sanctions are a means of peace! Perhaps Fenner Brockway does, not know of this appeal? Let him become acquainted with it. And if he does know why does he treat these people as revolutionary friends and not as traitors to proletarian internationalism?

The policy article of the New Leader maintains that the Swedish Socialist Party feels itself more closely connected with the London Bureau than I have maintained. It is quite possible that this connection has recently become somewhat closer. But that the Swedish Socialist Party has an international attitude – that is either a naïve or consciously false legend. It is of course anti-war and it declares itself to be anti-League of Nations. But its “fight” against war leads it hand-in-hand with the peace companies in the form of petitions. One could with the same success hold divine services for peace. But this method of action which manifests a shrieking contradiction between goal and method is enough to make us understand that the leaders of the Swedish Socialist Party with all their phraseology, which by the way changes very easily, are pacifistic philistines and certainly not proletarian revolutionaries, The peace policy of Kilboom [9], like that of a Schwab, is in the final analysis a small edition of the policy of Lord Cecil. [10] Every important event in Sweden will confirm this explanation.

The ILP cannot and will not admit that the Swedish Party is an anti-Marxist organization, because its own leadership shows that it itself is through and through a pacifist-centrist party. We have heartily welcomed the series of truly revolutionary New Leader articles about sanctions with Unser Wort, Nos.6 and 8, without any of those mental reservations with which the critic has reproached us. But one swallow does not make a summer. But even these articles bestow no Marxist halo upon the ILP. Maxton and the others remain what they were: petty-bourgeois pacifists and they decide the party’s course today as yesterday.

May I be permitted to point out that I publicly warned the ILP more than two years ago against the sterile alliance with the CPGB, as this alliance only multiplies the defects of both parties and diverts the attention of the ILP from the workers’ mass organizations. Were these warnings right or not? The CPGB is ending in the slough of opportunism. But the ILP is now politically weaker than ever, and its own ideas remain as indefinite and hazy as they were two years ago.

Lastly a few more words about what the New Leader says concerning the organizations of the Fourth International: it calls them “merest cliques”. In this characterization ignorance surpasses dishonesty. Clique is the word used by us Marxists for a group of individuals who have neither programme nor high aim but who cluster round a leader in order to satisfy personal and certainly not praiseworthy desires. (“Sect,” on the other hand, is the designation of a group with definite ideas and methods.) “Clique” also implies lack of honour. Does the New Leader believe that our party, organizations and groups possess no principles, no programme and no revolutionary consciousness? It would be really interesting to hear this sometime from Maxton or Fenner Brockway. [11] On our side we maintain: we are the only international organization which has developed in a struggle of many years an absolutely definite programme, which the greatest events confirm and strengthen every day. The passion with which all our organizations enter into discussion in order to clarify all the questions of the international workers’ movement, the independence with which they develop their opinion, proves how seriously they understand Marxism and how many miles distant they are from an unprincipled clique spirit.

According to figures, too, they do not stand in any way inferior to the organizations around the London Bureau. A short time ago I proved, using the official Soviet press, that in the last few months of the year 1935 about 20,000 Bolshevik-Leninists had been expelled from the official Communist Party. I believe that in the Soviet Union alone we have more followers than the London Bureau has in the whole world. According to figures the Dutch party stands hardly inferior to the ILP. We have a courageous and militant section in France [12], the focal point of European politics. Although the French comrades of the Fourth International have no representative in Parliament they play a much more important part today in French political life. The fascist and capitalist press of France is an irrefutable proof of this. And this is not to be wondered at: the Bolshevik-Leninists put forward in a revolutionary situation a really revolutionary programme. It is true that our earlier Spanish section has declined into the worst opportunism. But why? Because it has fused with the section of the London Bureau in order to pursue “big politics” in the wake of Señor Azaña. [13] Our friends in Belgium have fought their way to a significant influence. [14] Even in South America we have important and growing sections. Our American section, which has now joined the Socialist Party [15], has gained within it considerable sympathy for its ideas. Incidentally, it seems to me that the flag of the Fourth International has some supporters even inside the ILP. And the number of these is systematically increasing.

The difference between the London Bureau and the association of the Fourth International is as follows: in the first case it is a question of different hybrid organizations with quite a different past, with different ideas and a different future which, being without a roof, have temporarily associated themselves with the International London Bureau; in contrast to this the sections of the Fourth International are selective bodies which came into existence on the basis of quite definite ideas and methods worked out in the struggle with the Second and Third Internationals and the London Bureau. That is the reason why we increase systematically in spite of enormous difficulties, why the influence of the Fourth International grows stronger and stronger, why the two old Internationals have entered into a holy alliance against it, and why, when all is said and done, the sections of the London Bureau associate themselves everywhere with this holy alliance. The article in the New Leader is only one of the many proofs of these circumstances.

With the same certitude with which we some years ago warned the ILP against the alliance with the CPGB we affirm today that the ILP under its present leadership and on its present course is marching directly towards the abyss. We are at the same time no less certain that the best elements of the English workers’ movement will group themselves around the standard of the Fourth International, for it is now the only flag of the proletarian revolution.

Written 3rd April 1936 and published in Unser Wort, May 1936

Volume 3, Chapter 2 Index


1. The SAP was formed in October 1931 by several left-wingers who had been expelled by the Social Democrats. Early in the following year the Party was joined by a group of German right oppositionists (Brandlerites) led by Jacob Walcher (1887-1970) who soon assumed the leadership. Though they supported the call for a New International in 1933, the SAP later became actively hostile to it. They even supported the popular front in the mid-30s and soon afterwards disintegrated altogether. Walcher became a minor functionary in the East German Stalinist regime after 1945. The leader of the SAP’s Youth Section whose activities prevented the establishment of a youth international under the auspices of the London Bureau, was the future Chancellor of West Germany Willi Brandt.

2. James Maxton (1885-1946), Scottish socialist and leader of the Independent Labour Party; joined ILP in 1904; active opponent of World War I, close associate of John Maclean and leading figure in the Red Clydeside movement; elected to parliament in 1922; led the ILP out of the Labour Party in 1931/32.

3. Schwab was the real name of J. Walcher (1887-1970), a leader of the German SAP (seen note 1). – Jacques Doriot (1898-1945) was a leader in turn of the Communist Party and of fascism in France. As a leader of the Young Communists he was active in campaigns against militarism and was a Comintern agent in China in 1927. A great orator, he built up a political base as Mayor of St. Denis, and from 1934 he wanted to proceed to the Popular Front even more rapidly than the Stalinists. For a short period between 1934 and 1936 he took a centrist position, supporting the London Bureau (the “Seven Lefts”), but winning no approval from Trotsky. He set up a fascist party in 1936, became a leading Vichy collaborator, involved in military activity on behalf of that regime when he was killed. – Gorkin (1901-1987), whose real name was Julian Gomez, was a leading member of the Spanish CP during the 1920s, though he left – according to his own account – because he was ordered to assassinate the dictator Primo de Rivera. After supporting the Spanish Left Opposition for a time, he left to join Maurin’s Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc, later becoming a leader of the POUM.

4. This was the name adopted by the Austrian Social Democrats when they were made illegal by the clerical-fascist regimes of Dollfuss and Schuschnigg from 1933 onwards, and after they had broken from some of the older and more discredited right-wing leaders like Renner and Bauer.

5. Otto Bauer (1881-1938) was one of the chief theorists of Austro-Marxism. – Fedor Dan (1871-1947) was a founder of the Russian Social Democratic Party and a leader of the Menshevik faction. During the First World War he was a pacifist and a member of the Petrograd Soviet. After engaging in various political activities hostile to the Bolshevik Revolution, he left the Soviet Union in 1921 and thereafter remained prominent in various centrist and reformist international organizations. – Jean Zyromski (1890-1975) joined the SFIO in 1912, remaining a member after the 1920 split in order, as he said, to fight reformism. He founded the “Bataille Socialiste”, a centrist group within the Socialist Party from 1929-1940 and advocated “organic unity” of the Socialist and Communist Parties. He eventually joined the Stalinists in 1945.

6. Mot Dag (Towards Day) is the name of a left-wing magazine which existed from 1921 to 1936, and of the group of intellectuals which formed round it under the leadership of Erling Falk. In the early period, from within the Labour Party (NAP) Falk was a particularly virulent opponent of its affiliation to the Communist International. The group was expelled from the NAP in 1925, but eventually re-joined it in 1936.

7. Locarno was the venue for the conference held in 1925 of the main European powers except for the Soviet Union, i.e., France, Germany, Belgium, Britain and Italy. It resulted in the non-aggression pact known as the Locarno Treaty.

8. The Italian Maximalists were a faction within the exile Italian Social Democracy that aligned itself with the London Bureau.

9. Karl Kilboom (1885-1961) was a founder of the Swedish Communist Party and represented it on the Executive Committee of the Comintern. After being attacked in 1929 for failing to call the social democrats “social fascists”, he set up the Independent Communist Party (later known as the Socialist Party) which participated in the London Bureau en route to going over to social democracy.

10. Robert, Lord Cecil (1864-1958), British lawyer and Conservative politician; major advocate of the League of Nations.

11. Fenner Brockway (1888-1988), British socialist and leader of the Independent Labour Party; joined ILP in 1907; editor of Labour Leader, the ILP paper, 1912-16; a militant pacifist during World War I, he was jailed several times; Editor of New Leader, the renamed ILP paper; 1926-29 and 1931-46; Chairman of ILP 1931-33 and General Secretary of ILP (1933-39); member of parliament 1929-31 and 1950-1964.

12. Trotsky was well known to many of the leaders of French Communism and he secured the support of some of their number as early as 1923 when he warned in The New Course of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Various of them were expelled from the CP and began to produce the documents of the Soviet Left Opposition in different magazines. Eventually they came together to produce La Verité from August 1929, and in April 1930 established the “Ligue Communiste”. Trotsky took a close interest in the development of his French supporters after that, and considered that the issues raised there had a significance that went well beyond France itself. In August 1934, with strong encouragement from Trotsky, the group entered the SFIO (see note). Twenty-six prominent Bolshevik-Leninists were expelled from the SFIO in September 1935 as the party leadership lined up with the Popular Front. This led to further debate among the Trotskyists about how to proceed, and Trotsky gave firm support to those in favour of establishing an independent organization, which was achieved with the founding of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste in March 1936.

13. Manuel Azaña (1880-1940) was a leading bourgeois radical politician in Spain. He was Prime Minister in the republican government in June 1931 and again in 1936, and President of the Republic from May 1936 until his resignation in 1939.

14. The Belgian Workers Party (POB) which entered the Social Democratic party in 1935.

15. In June 1936 the American Trotskyists dissolved their organization and joined the Socialist Party, at Trotsky’s prompting. After fighting on major questions, in particular the failure of the SP to break from the politics of the Spanish Popular Front, they re-established their paper Socialist Appeal in August 1937 and were all expelled by the end of the following month. Details can be found in James P. Cannon, History of American Trotskyism.

Trotsky’s Writings on Britain

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Last updated on: 1.7.2007