Written on July 15, 1933.
First Published in English: 1943 in The Fourth International
Introduction by The Fourth International
EDITOR’S NOTE: The official dissolution of the Communist International comes almost ten years after the proclamation by Leon Trotsky that the Third International was dead as the world instrument for the socialist revolution. It was on July 15, 1933 that Trotsky wrote his theses, reprinted below, in justification of this conclusion and the need of building the Fourth International.
In his summary speech before the International Commission of Inquiry into the Moscow Trials, on April 17, 1937, Leon Trotsky reviewed his position as follows:
“In the course of the years from 1923 to 1933, with respect to the Soviet state, its leading party and the Communist International, I held the view expressed in those chiselled words: Reform, but not revolution. This position was fed by the hope that with favorable developments in Europe, the Left Opposition could regenerate the Bolshevik Party by pacific means, democratically reform the Soviet state, and set the Communist International back on the path of Marxism. It was only the victory of Hitler, prepared by the fatal policy of the Kremlin, and the complete inability of the Comintern to draw any lessons from the tragic experience of Germany, which convinced me and my ideological companions that the old Bolshevik Party and the Third International were forever dead, as far as the cause of Socialism WSE concerned.” (The Case of Leon Trotsky , p.476.)
Trotsky’s 1933 theses were submitted for discussion to the various sections of the International Communist League (the original name of the Trotskyist organization) and were adopted by an overwhelming majority. Within a few weeks of their adoption a resolution “On the Need of a New International And Its Principles” was issued under the signatures of the following four organizations: The International Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninist); Socialist Labor Party of Germany (SAP); Independent Socialist Party of Holland (OSP); Revolutionary Socialist Party of Holland (RSP). Of the original signatories to this resolution only the Trotskyists—including a left wing in the Dutch parties—continued the work of building the Fourth International.
The Russian text of Trotsky’s 1933 theses was first published under the signature G. Gurow in the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition , Nos.36-37, October, 1933.The translation by John G. Wright is a new one from the original.
From the day it was founded the Left Opposition has set itself the task of reforming the Comintern and regenerating the latter through Marxist criticism and internal faction work. In a whole number of countries, especially in Germany, the events of recent years have revealed with overwhelming force the fatal character of the policies of bureaucratic centrism. But the Stalinist bureaucracy, armed with extraordinary resources, has managed not unsuccessfully to counterpose its caste interests and prejudices to the demands of historical development. As a result, the evolution of the Comintern has unfolded not along the line of regeneration but along that of corrosion and disintegration.
But the orientation toward “reform,” taken as a whole, was not a mistake: it represented a necessary stage in the development of the Marxist wing of the Comintern; it provided an opportunity for training cadres of Bolshevik-Leninists; and it did not pass without leaving its mark on the working-class movement as a whole. The policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy throughout this period remained under the pressure of the Left Opposition. The progressive measures adopted by the government of the USSR, which acted to check the offensive of Thermidor, were only partial and belated borrowings from the Left Opposition. Analogous manifestations, but on a smaller scale, could be observed in the life of all the sections of the Comintern.
It should be added that the degree of degeneration of a revolutionary party cannot, as a rule, be established a priori, on the basis of symptoms alone. The living verification of events is indispensable. Theoretically it was still impermissible last year to have considered as absolutely excluded that the Bolshevik-Leninists, basing themselves on the sharpening of the class struggle, could succeed in impelling the Comintern to take the road of actual struggle against fascism. The simultaneous attempt of the SAP in Germany to assume an independent position did not exert an influence on the course of events precisely because the masses were waiting in the critical moment for the political leadership of their old organizations. In conducting the policy of a faction and educating its cadres on the experience of this policy, the Left Opposition, however, did not hide from itself nor from others that a new defeat of the proletariat, resulting from the policy of centrism, would inevitably acquire a decisive character and would demand a drastic review of our position on the question: faction or party?
The most dangerous thing in politics is to fall captive to one’s own formula that yesterday was appropriate, but is bereft of all content today.
Theoretically, the collapse of the German Communist Party still left two courses open to the Stalinist bureaucracy: either a complete review of the politics and the regime; or, on the contrary, a complete strangulation of all signs of life in the sections of the Comintern. The Left Opposition was guided by this theoretical possibility when, after advancing the slogan of a new party for Germany, it still left open the question of the fate of the Comintern. It was, however, clear that the next few weeks would bring an answer and there was far too little hope that the answer would be a favorable one.
Everything that has taken place since March 5: the resolution of the presidium of the ECCI on the situation in Germany; the silent submission of all the sections to this shameful resolution; the anti-fascist congress in Paris; the official line of the émigré Central Committee of the German Communist Party; the fate of the Austrian Communist Party; the fate of the Bulgarian Communist Party, etc. – all this testifies incontestably that the fate of not only the German Communist Party but also the entire Comintern was decided in Germany.
The Moscow leadership has not only proclaimed as infallible the policy which guaranteed victory to Hitler, but has also prohibited all discussion of what had occurred. And this shameful interdiction was not violated, nor overthrown. No national congresses; no international congress; no discussions at party meetings; no discussion in the press! An organization which was not roused by the thunder of fascism and which submits docilely to such outrageous acts of the bureaucracy demonstrates thereby that it is dead and that nothing can ever revive it. To say this openly and publicly is our direct duty toward the proletariat and its future. In all our subsequent work it is necessary to take as our point of departure the historical collapse of the official Communist International.
The fact that two parties, the Social Democratic and the Communist, which arose half a century apart and which both proceeded from the theory of Marxism and the class interests of the proletariat, could have come to such a sad end – the one through base treachery, the other through bankruptcy – can engender pessimistic moods even among the advanced workers. “Where is the guarantee that a new revolutionary selection will not suffer the same fate?” Those who demand guarantees in advance should in general renounce revolutionary politics. The causes for the downfall of the Social Democracy and of official Communism must be sought not in Marxist theory and not in the bad qualities of those people who applied it, but in the concrete conditions of the historical process. It is not a question of counterposing abstract principles, but rather of the struggle of living social forces, with its inevitable ups and downs, with the degeneration of organizations, with the passing of entire generations into discard, and with the necessity which therefore arises of mobilizing fresh forces on a new historical stage. No one has bothered to pave in advance the road of revolutionary upsurge for the proletariat. With inevitable halts and partial retreats it is necessary to move forward on a road crisscrossed by countless obstacles and covered with the debris of the past Those who are frightened by this had better step aside.
But how explain the fact that our grouping, whose analysis and prognosis has been verified by the entire course of events, is growing so slowly? The cause must be looked for in the general course of the class struggle. The victory of fascism seizes tens of millions. Political prognoses are accessible only to thousands or tens of thousands who, moreover, feel the pressure of millions. A revolutionary tendency cannot score stormy victories at a time when the proletariat as a whole is suffering the greatest defeats. But this is no justification for letting one’s hands hang. Precisely in the periods of revolutionary ebb tide are cadres formed and tempered which will later be called upon to lead the masses in the new assault.
Those attempts which were made more than once in the past to create a “second party” or the “Fourth International” emanated from the sectarian experience of isolated groups and circles “disillusioned” with Bolshevism and, in consequence, led each time to failure. We take as the point of departure not our own subjective “dissatisfaction” and “disillusionment” but the objective march of the class struggle. All the conditions of the development of the proletarian revolution imperiously demand a new organization of the vanguard and provide the necessary prerequisites for it.
The disintegration of the Social Democracy now proceeds parallel with the collapse of the Comintern. However profound the reaction within the proletariat itself, hundreds of thousands of workers in the whole world must already be asking themselves about the further course of struggle and a new organization of forces. Other hundreds of thousands will join them in the near future. To demand of these workers, a section of whom left the Comintern with indignation, while the majority did not belong to the Comintern even in its best years, that they formally accept the leadership of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which is incapable of forgetting or learning anything, is to occupy oneself with Quixotism and to hinder the formation of the proletarian vanguard.
Undoubtedly, in the ranks of the Stalinist organizations, will be found sincere Communists, who will greet with fear and even with indignation our new orientation. Some of them might perhaps temporarily replace a feeling of sympathy with one of hostility. But it is necessary to be guided not by sentimental and personal considerations but by mass criteria.
At a time when hundreds of thousands and millions of workers, especially in Germany, are departing from Communism, in part to fascism and in the main into the camp of indifferentism, thousands and tens of thousands of Social Democratic workers, under the impact of the self-same defeat, are evolving to the left, to the side of Communism. There cannot however, even be talk of their accepting the hopelessly discredited Stalinist leadership.
Up till now these left socialist organizations have held against us our refusal to break with the Comintern and to build independent parties. This sharp disagreement has now been removed by the march of development. Thereby the discussion of formal, organizational questions is shifted over to the programmatic, political plane. The new party will rise higher than the old one only if, by taking its stand firmly on the grounds of the decisions of the first four congresses of the Comintern, it is capable in its program, strategy, tactics, and organization of taking into account the terrible lessons of the last ten years.
The Bolshevik-Leninists must enter into open discussions with the revolutionary socialist organizations. As the basis for discussion we shall propose the eleven points adopted by our Pre-Conference (after changing the point on “faction and party” in the spirit of the present theses). We are, of course, prepared to discuss attentively and in a comradely manner all other programmatic proposals. We must and shall demonstrate that principled irreconcilability has nothing in common with sectarian snobbishness. We shall show that Marxist politic consists in attracting reformist workers into the camp of revolution and not in repelling revolutionary workers into the camp of fascism.
The formation in several countries of strong revolutionary organizations, free of any responsibility for the crimes and mistakes of the reformist and centrist bureaucracies, armed with the Marxist program and a clear revolutionary perspective, will open a new era in the development of the world proletariat. These organizations will attract all the genuine Communist elements who still cannot bring themselves today to break with the Stalinist bureaucracy, and, what is more important, they will gradually attract under their banner the young generation of workers.
The existence of the Soviet Union, despite the far-advanced degeneration of the workers’ state, remains even now a fact of immeasurable revolutionary significance. The collapse of the Soviet Union would lead to terrible reaction in the whole world, perhaps for decades to come. The struggle for the preservation, rehabilitation, and strengthening of the first workers’ state is indissolubly bound up with the struggle of the world proletariat for the socialist revolution.
The dictatorship of the Stalinist bureaucracy arose as a result of the backwardness of the USSR (the predominance of the peasantry) and the tardiness of the proletarian revolution in the West (the absence of independent revolutionary parties of the proletariat). In its turn, the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy has led not only to the degeneration of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union, but also to the terrible weakening of the proletarian vanguard in the whole world. The contradiction between the progressive role of the Soviet state and the reactionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy is one of the manifestations of the “law of uneven development” In our revolutionary politics we must take this historically given contradiction as our point of departure.
The so-called friends of the Soviet Union (left democrats, pacifists, Brandlerites, and the like) repeat the argument of the Comintern functionaries that the struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy, i.e., first of all criticism of its false policies, “helps the counter-revolution.” This is the standpoint of the political lackeys of the bureaucracy, but never that of revolutionists. The Soviet Union both internally and externally can be defended only by means of a correct policy. All other considerations are either secondary or simply lying phrases.
The present CPSU is not a party but an apparatus of domination in the hands of an uncontrolled bureaucracy. Within the framework of the CPSU and outside of it takes place the grouping of the scattered elements of the two basic parties: the proletarian and the Thermidorean-Bonapartist. Rising above both of them, the centrist bureaucracy wages a war of annihilation against the Bolshevik-Leninists. While coming into sharp clashes from time to time with their Thermidorean half-allies, the Stalinists, nevertheless, clear the road for the latter by crushing, strangling, and corrupting the Bolshevik Party.
If without proletarian revolution in the West the USSR cannot come to socialism, then without the regeneration of a genuine proletarian International, the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists will not be able, with their own forces alone, to regenerate the Bolshevik Party and to save the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The defense of the Soviet Union against the threat of military intervention has now become a task more acute than ever before. The official sections of the Comintern are as impotent in this field as in all others. On their lips, the defense of the Soviet Union has become a ritualistic phrase, bereft of all content. The inadequacy of the Comintern is being covered up by such undignified comedies as the antiwar congress in Amsterdam and the antifascist congress in Paris. The actual resistance of the Comintern to the military intervention of the imperialists will prove even more insignificant than its resistance to Hitler. To nourish any illusions on this score is to head blindfolded toward a new catastrophe. For the active defense of the Soviet Union genuine revolutionary organizations are needed, independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy, standing on their own feet and enjoying support among the masses.
The establishment and growth of these revolutionary organizations, their struggle for the Soviet Union, their constant readiness for a united front with the Stalinists against intervention and counterrevolution – all this will have an enormous importance for the internal development of the Soviet republic. The Stalinists, insofar as they remain in power, will have all the less opportunity to evade the united front as the dangers, both domestic and foreign, become more acute, and as the independent organization of the world proletarian vanguard becomes a greater force. The new relationship of forces will act to weaken the dictatorship of the bureaucracy, to strengthen the Bolshevik-Leninists inside the USSR, and to open up before the workers’ republic as a whole far more favorable perspectives.
Only the creation of the Marxist International, completely independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy and counterposed politically to it, can save the USSR from collapse by binding its destiny with the destiny of the world proletarian revolution.
Bureaucratic charlatans (and their lackeys, like the Brandlerites) talk about our “liquidationism. “ They repeat senselessly and unconscionably words torn out of the old vocabulary of Bolshevism. Liquidationism was the designation given to that tendency which, under “constitutional” Czarism, rejected the need for an illegal party, for it sought to replace revolutionary struggle by an adaptation to counterrevolutionary “legality.” What have we in common with the liquidators? It is far more appropriate to recall in this connection the ultimatists (Bogdanov and others) who fully recognized the need of an illegal organization but turned it into an instrument of hopelessly false policies: after the crushing of the revolution they posed as the immediate task the preparation of an armed uprising. Lenin did not hesitate to break with them, although there were not a few impeccable revolutionists among them. (The best of them later returned to the ranks of Bolshevism.)
Equally false in character are the assertions of Stalinists and their Brandlerite lackeys to the effect that the Left Opposition is creating an “August Conference” against “Bolshevism.” Referred to here is the attempt of 1912, one of the innumerable attempts to unite Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. (Let us recall that Stalin made such an attempt not in August 1912, but in March 1917!) For this analogy to have even a shadow of meaning, it would be necessary in the first place to acknowledge the Stalinist bureaucracy as the bearer of Bolshevism; and secondly, it would be necessary for us to pose the question of uniting the Second and Third Internationals. There cannot even be talk of either proposition! The charlatan analogy is designed to cover up the fact that the Brandlerite opportunists are trying to curry favor with the Stalinist centrists on the basis of a mutual amnesty, whereas the Bolshevik-Leninists are posing the task of building the proletarian party on a principled foundation, tested in the greatest battles, the victories and defeats of the imperialist epoch.
The task of these theses is to summon the comrades to cross off the completed historical stage and to sketch out new perspectives for work. But what has been said above does not at all predetermine the immediate practical steps, the concrete changes in policy, the tempos and method of shifting to the new road. Only after a principled unanimity has been secured with regard to the new orientation – and our previous experience permits me to think that such a unanimity will be achieved by us – will there be placed on the order of the day the concrete tactical questions applicable to the conditions in each separate country.
In any case, under discussion now is not the immediate proclamation of new parties and of an independent international, but of preparing for them. The new perspective signifies first of all that talk of “reform” and demands to restore oppositionists in the official parties must be put aside as utopian and reactionary. The day-to-day work must assume an independent character, determined by our own possibilities and forces, and not by the formal criterion of “faction.” The Left Opposition ceases completely to feel and act as an “opposition.” It becomes an independent organization, clearing its own road. It not only builds its own fractions in the Social Democratic and Stalinist parties, but conducts independent work among nonparty and unorganized workers. It creates its own bases of support in the trade unions, independently of the trade-union policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy. It participates in elections under its own banner, whenever favorable conditions for this obtain. In relation to reformist and centrist labor organizations (including the Stalinists) it is guided by the general principles of the united-front policy. In particular, it applies the policy of the united front especially in order to defend the USSR against external intervention and internal counterrevolution.
Last updated on: 25.4.2007