Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain
Volume III

Trotskyism versus Centrism in Britain

London Bureau Aids
Stalin Frame-ups

Once More on Fenner Brockway

“The London Bureau of Revolutionary Socialist Parties” was invited, together with the Second and Third Internationals, to participate in the International Commission of Inquiry on the Moscow trials. [1] On May 21 Fenner Brockway [2], in the name of the London Bureau, rejected the invitation. The pertinent section of his reply reads verbatim as follows:

“The International Bureau is not able to endorse the American Commission of Inquiry or to be represented on it because it takes the view that a disastrous mistake has been made in initiating the inquiry through a Committee which describes itself as a ‘Committee for the Defence of Trotsky’.”

The London Bureau, it would seem, is vitally concerned in the success of the inquiry and if it refuses to give any assistance it is solely due to the fact that the investigation was initiated by the “Defence’ Committee. However, Mr. Brockway fails to specify just who should have initiated the inquiry. The new head of the GPU Yezhov? [3] Or the secretary of the Comintern, Dimitrov? [4] Or the King’s Counsellor, Pritt? [5] Or the secretary of the London Bureau, Fenner Brockway? Or, finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury? The most “impartial” of the above-listed candidates, one should imagine, is Brockway himself. But, as is obvious from his letter of last February to the American Socialist, Devere Allen [6], none other than Brockway himself not only refused to initiate the inquiry but did everything in his power to prevent others from taking the initiative, and, furthermore, adduced arguments involving not the interests of impartiality but those of the Moscow bureaucracy. Here is what Brockway wrote to Allen: The inquiry “... will merely arouse prejudice in Russia and in Communist circles.” Isn’t it astonishing? In a letter not intended for publication Brockway incautiously spoke up as a member of the “Committee for the Defence of – Stalin, Dimitrov, Vyshinsky and Yagoda.” [7] I pointed this out in the press at the time. Not a word came in reply from Brockway. Several months elapsed. In his letter of May 28, Brockway again came out against the inquiry, but this time with a completely different set of arguments. But in essence he still remains a member of the undercover “Committee for the Defence” of the falsifiers against their victims.

There is no juridical or moral ground whatever for the suspicion which Brockway, in the name of the London Bureau, seeks to cast over the inquiry. All that the American Committee did was to take the initiative. Furthermore, the sum and substance of its initiative consisted precisely in this: to assure, in collaboration with other organizations, an objective and a conscientious investigation through a special International Commission, entirely independent of the initiators.

The composition of the American Committee is not a homogeneous one. There are individuals in it who understood from the very outset the absurdity and vileness of the Moscow accusations. Other members had no settled opinions on this score but they were either alarmed by or indignant over the “totalitarian” character of Moscow justice and over the fact that the Norwegian “Socialist” flunkeys of the GPU had placed me behind lock and key at the very moment when I needed freedom most to defend not only myself but hundreds of others. It goes without saying that had the American Committee been composed of hypocrites it might have called itself “The Committee for the Defence of Eternal Precepts of Morality.” But it chose to act openly. By “Defence of Trotsky” the Committee had and has in mind not to provide the alliance between Trotsky and Hitler with a cover but to provide Trotsky with an opportunity to publicly refute the accusation made against him. Nothing more! It is quite sufficient.

The members of the Committee understood from the first just as well as Brockway did that the verdict of the International Commission would carry weight only if the inquiry were conducted with all the requisite guarantees for thoroughness and objectivity, in particular, with the participation in the Commission of representatives of the different trends in political thought. The Committee began by inviting publicly the representatives of the Moscow government, the Comintern, “Friends of the Soviet Union”, the Second International, the London Bureau, etc. It was, naturally, not a question of the political or moral evaluation of Stalinism, Trotskyism, Bolshevism or Marxism. No political tendency would agree to serve as the object of appraisal by an inter-party commission; no rational commission would undertake such an insuperable task. The appraisal of political tendencies is made by the masses in the course of the political struggle. The final verdict is brought in by history.

The task of the inquiry of the International Commission did and does consist only of verifying certain specific charges made against certain individuals. The political conclusions from the verdict of the Commission will be drawn by each tendency in its own way. This made it all the more essential for every organization interested in bringing out the truth to participate in the investigation. But the direct and indirect agents and “friends” of the GPU and the friends of friends flatly refused to participate. Some of them, in the spirit of Fenner Brockway’s first letter argued that it was impermissible to arouse any prejudice against Stalin and his Comintern; others, in the style of Fenner Brockway’s second letter, adjudged the commission not “impartial” enough. Both the former and the latter had ample justification for fearing an investigation. The London Bureau protected their rear.

To reveal more vividly the unworthy role played by this Bureau we shall dwell on another, and more recent case. The gangsters of the GPU in Spain murdered Andres Nin, the leader of the POUM. [8] Nin was an opponent of mine. Fenner Brockway, on the contrary, considered Nin a co-thinker. If the London Bureau and other “impartial” Pontius Pilates had joined in an investigation of the Moscow frame-ups immediately after the Zinoviev-Kamenev [9] trial, the GPU might not have dared to put in circulation the palpably false charge that the leaders of the POUM are collaborating with General Franco. But this was not done. The “impartial” ones shielded the GPU. As a result, Nin has been murdered, together with scores and hundreds of others. The POUM has been crushed. What has been let slip cannot be retrieved. Do Messrs. Brockway think that the time has now come for an international investigation of the crimes of the GPU in Spain – of the frame-ups, pillages and murders? Or are they waiting for the sterilized priests of impartiality to initiate the investigation? Let Brockway supply me with their addresses and telephone numbers. I will immediately get in touch with them. But if, as I suspect, they do not exist in nature, let the London Bureau take upon itself the initiative of calling the inquiry. Let the Bureau, emulating the example of the American Committee, turn to all the existing labour Internationals and to outstanding individuals in science, literature and art who are known for their honesty and integrity. If someone were to say that Fenner Brockway would make a “disastrous mistake” by initiating the inquiry instead of allowing matters to rest with Stalin or Negrin [10], every rational and honest person would call such an “accuser” a brazen hypocrite.

In conclusion, I consider it necessary to recall here another not unimportant circumstance. In the very same February letter in which he expressed his touching concern for the interests of Stalin, Yagoda and Dimitrov, Fenner Brockway proposed to create an international commission of inquiry … into my political activity and, furthermore, with rather strange “precipitancy” proposed to include in this commission Norman Thomas, Otto Bauer, Branting [11], and other bitter political enemies of mine. The very idea of an “official” appraisal of the political activity of an individual or a party through the medium of a commission of inquiry is so absurd that it properly belongs only on the pages of a provincial humorous magazine. Of course, Fenner Brockway himself could not have failed to understand this. But he attempted to make use of the gory Moscow amalgams in order to deal a blow at Bolshevism (“Trotskyism”) which he hates so much; in addition he tried to cover up his factional struggle with the cloak of an impartial “investigation”. Specialists in morals are notoriously fond of fishing in troubled waters.

We, the “amoral” Bolsheviks, proceed differently. We openly criticized Nin’s policies when he was alive. We did not alter our evaluation of him after he died. But inasmuch as we never for a moment doubted the integrity of this proletarian fighter, we stand ready to do everything in our power to rehabilitate his name and mercilessly brand his executioners. We declare in advance to Fenner Brockway and all other specialists in morals that not a single one of our friends and co-thinkers will attempt to use the investigation of Nin’s murder as a pretext to settle scores with Nin’s policies. To wage a struggle against opportunism and centrism we have no need to hide behind a “commission”, created for a totally different purpose. We leave such methods to the Tartuffes [12] of idealistic morality. We, gross materialists, prefer to call a “nettle but a nettle and the faults of fools but folly.” We deal blows to our adversaries openly and in our own names.

Written on 5th September 1937 and
published in Socialist Appeal, 18th September 1937

* * *

In Great Britain the Comintern is nowadays conducting agitation in favour of creating a “People’s Front” with the participation of the liberals. At first glance such a policy appears to be absolutely incomprehensible. The Labour Party represents a mighty organization. One could easily understand an urge on the part of the social-patriotic Comintern to draw closer to it. But the liberals represent an utterly compromised and politically second-rate force. Moreover they are split into several groups. In the struggle to maintain their influence the Labourites naturally reject any idea of a bloc with the liberals, so as not to infect themselves with a gangrenous poison. They are defending themselves rather energetically – by means of expulsions – against the idea of a “People’s Front.”

Why then doesn’t the Comintern confine itself to fighting for a collaboration with the Labourites? Why does it instead invariably demand the inclusion of the liberal shadows of the past into the united front? The crux of the matter lies in this, that the policy of the Labour Party is far too radical for the Kremlin. An alliance between the Communists and the Labourites might assume some shade of anti-imperialism and would thereby render more difficult a rapprochement between Moscow and London. The presence of liberals in the “People’s Front” signifies a direct and an immediate censorship exercised by imperialism over the actions of the Labour Party. Under the cover of such a censorship Stalin would be able to render all the necessary services to British imperialism.

From Hitler and Stalin (dated 6th March 1939),
Byulleten Oppozitsii, March-April 1939

* * *

At first sight the conduct of the French and English sections of the Communist International appeared to be diametrically opposite. [13] In contradistinction to the Germans, they were compelled to attack their own government. But this sudden defeatism was not internationalism, but a distorted variety of patriotism – these gentlemen consider their fatherland to be the Kremlin, on which their welfare depends. Many of the French Stalinists behaved with unquestionable courage under persecution. But the political content of this courage was besmirched by their “embellishment of the rapacious policy of the enemy camp. What must the French workers think of it?

Revolutionary internationalists have always been portrayed by reaction as agents of a foreign enemy. The Comintern created a situation for its French and English sections that made them provide the very grounds for such an accusation, and thereby forcibly drove the workers into the patriotic camp or condemned them to confusion and passivity.

From the Manifesto of the Fourth International on
the Imperialist War and the World Proletarian Revolution
adopted by the Emergency Conference of
the Fourth International, 26th May 1940

Volume 3, Chapter 2 Index


1. In order to counter the lies of the Moscow Trials, Trotsky decided after his arrival in Mexico in February 1936 and the beginning of the second trial to run a “counter-trial” at which publicity could be given to the unstated case for the defence. In March 1937 a Joint Commission of Enquiry was set up by American, British, French and Czech bodies for the defence of Trotsky. Its chairman was John Dewey, the American pragmatist philosopher and educationalist, and other members included American writers and academics and former Communist Party members of the German Reichstag. After a meticulous consideration of the evidence, the Commission decided that the first two Moscow Trials were frame-ups and that Trotsky and his son were not guilty of all the numerous charges against them which had been mentioned there. (For Trotsky’s speech to the Commission, see the Moscow Trials Anthology, 1967)

2. 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.

3. The GPU (State Political Directorate) was the Soviet political police, established in 1923, theoretically with less powers than its predecessor, the Cheka. From 1934 the organization was merged more closely with the ministry of the interior (NKVD) and its policing activities are sometimes referred to under the name of that body.

4. Georgi Dimitrov (1882-1949), Bulgarian socialist; Joined Bulgarian social Democrats in 1902; from 1903 member of the so-called “Narrow party”; opposed World War I; founder member of the bulgarian Communist Party in 1919; arrested in Berlin in 1933 and accused of complicity in the Reichstag fire; his defence won him wordwide renown; released to the Societ union in an exchange of prisoners; appointed general Secretary of the Comintern in 1934 and remained in this post until the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943; prime minister of Bulgaria 1946-49.

5. D.N. Pritt (1887-1972), British lawyer and labour politician; an uncritical defender of Stalin, he justified the Moscow Trials.

6. Devere Allen (1891-1955), American Quaker and pacifist. Worked in Europe and Latin America as a journalist during the 1930s and 1940s and participated in various pacifist and liberal causes. Stood for the US senate as a candidate on behalf of the Socialist Party in 1932 and 1934 and for state governor in 1938 for the Labor Party, all in Connecticut.

7. Vyshinsky was prosecutor at the Moscow Trials and Yagoda was head of the GPU during the 1930s. Andrei Vyshinsky (1883-1955) was a leading Menshevik until 1920. From 1935 to 1939 he was Public Prosecutor or Deputy Prosecutor and led the prosecution at all the Moscow Trials. He was later Foreign Minister during Stalin’s last years in 1949-53. Genrikh Yagoda (1891-1938) was a Bolshevik from 1917, a member of the military inspectorate, and a supporter of the right wing Bukharin tendency and later of Stalin. He organized the mass deportation of kulaks during the forced industrialization, and prepared the first two Moscow Trials, though at the third he was sentenced to death.

8. Andres Nin (1892-1937) was a founder member of the Spanish Communist Party and of the International Left Opposition. He broke with Trotskyism in 1935 and joined with Maurin’s Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc to form the POUM. Despite his centrist politics he put up a firm resistance to Stalinist terror, and when he was was arrested by the Stalinists in Barcelona he refused under the severest pressure to sign any documents asserting his guilt. After the failure of this attempt to set up a “Moscow Trial” in Spain German CP members of the International Brigade took him away one night and shot him.

9. Grigory Zinoviev (1883-1936), Russian Bolshevik; joined RSDLP in 1901 and supported the Bolshevik faction in the split in 1903; on of Lenin’s closest collaborators between 1903 and 1917; opposed the seizure of power in october 1917 along with Kamenev but nevertheless remained in the Central Committee of the party; Chairman of the Comintern 1919-26; allied with Stalin againhst Trotsky after Lenin’s death, but the alliance collapsed in 1925; gradually removed from all positions of influence Zinoviev joined forces with Trotsky to form the Joint Opposition; expelled from the party after their defeat at the 15th Party Congress in December 1927; capitulated to Stalin in early 1928 and eventually readmitted into the party; arrested in December 1934 after the Kirov assassination and put on trial in January 1935; admitted “moral complicity” in the assassination and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment; put on trial with Kamenev and 14 other Old Bolsheviks in August 1936, the First Moscow Show Trial, and sentenced to death; executed immediately after the trial. – Lev Kamenev (1883-1936), Russian Bolshevik and Trotsky’s brother-in-law; joined the RSDLP in 1901 and and supported the Bolshevik faction after the 1903 split; directed the workd of the bolshevik daily Pravda and the Bolshevik faction in the Duma from January 1914; arrested after outbreak of World War I and exiled to Siberia; after Fewr#bruary Revolution retruned to petrograd and took control of Pravda, adopting a conciliatory attitude towards the Provisional Government; opposed seizre of power in October 1917 along with Zinoviev; became chairman of Moscow Soviet in 1918; allied with Zinoviev and Stalin against Trotsky adfter Lenin’s death until the collapse of the alliance in 1925; joined forces with Zinoviev and Trotsky to form the Joint Opposition; expelled from the party after their defeat at the 15th Party Congress in December 1927; capitulated to Stalin in early 1928 and eventually readmitted into the party; arrested in December 1934 after the Kirov assassination and put on trial in January 1935; admitted “moral complicity” in the assassination and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment; put on trial with Zinoviev and 14 other Old Bolsheviks in August 1936, the First Moscow Show Trial, and sentenced to death; executed immediately after the trial.

10. Juan Negrin (1889-1956) was a Spanish bourgeois politician. Born into a prosperous family, he was a doctor of medicine and a Professor of psychology. He was a strong opponent of nationalization, but joined the Socialist Party, becoming active only during the Civil War in buying arms from the Soviet Union. He became Finance Minister in Caballero’s government in September 1936 and Spain’s last Republican Prime Minister in the following May. He worked closely with the Stalinists, who played an important part in his rapid rise to power.

11. Norman Thomas (1883-1968) was leader of the Socialist Party of the United States and eight times candidate for President. Considered a “left’ socialist in the early 1930s, he later became a defender of US foreign policy. – Otto Bauer (1881-1931), Austrian Social Democrat, leading theoretician of the Austro-Marxist school. – Hjalmar Branting (1860-1925) was the right wing leader of Swedish social democracy, its first MP and head of a number of minority social democratic administrations in the early 1920s.

12. Tartuffe is the main character in the comedy of the same name by the 17th century French playwright Molière. He is a pious crook, outwardly ascetic but actually a sensual glutton, who inveigles his way into a respectable household for the purpose of seducing the daughter.

13. This was written during the period of the Nazi-Soviet pact when Stalinists in every country were opposing the Allies’ war plans. In Britain the Daily Worker was suppressed for a time, while in France, especially after surrender and occupation, the CP had to face even greater difficulties.

Volume 3 Index

Trotsky’s Writings on Britain

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Last updated on: 1.7.2007