Leon Trotsky

In Defense of Marxism

Back to the Party [1]

First Published: Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, New York 1942.
Checked against: Leon Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, London 1966, pp.192-195.
All footnotes stem from the latter edition.

February 21, 1940

Dear Comrades,

The leaders of the Minority have not as yet answered any theoretical or political argument from our part. The inconsistency of their own arguments was unmasked in the writings of the Majority. Now the opposition leaders seem to have passed over to guerrilla warfare:

It is the fate of many other defeated armies. Comrade A. Goldman characterized aptly the new method of the opposition in his circular letter of February 12th. One of the most curious examples of this new warfare is the more valiant than sensible attack of Comrade MacDonald in connection with my Liberty article. He didn’t find, you see, in this article an analysis of the contradictory character of the Soviet state and of the “progressive role” of the Red Army. With the same logic which he shows in the editing of Partisan Review as in his analysis of the Kronstadt uprising, he discovers that I am “in reality” a minorityite, a Shachtmanite, or a MacDonaldist, at least when I speak for the bourgeois press and that my contrary declarations, capitulatory toward Stalinism, are made only in the internal bulletins for the purpose of helping Cannon. If we should express MacDonald’s discovery in a more articulate manner, it would signify: When Trotsky wishes to adapt himself to the bourgeois public opinion, to make himself agreeable to the readers of Liberty, he writes like Shachtman, and almost like MacDonald; but when he speaks to the Party, he becomes terribly anti-minority. The Partisan Review is very interested in psychoanalysis and I permit myself to say that the editor of this review, if he analyzes himself a bit, would recognize that he has uncovered his own subconscious.

Nobody asks from the Minority that they analyze in every article and in every speech the contradictory nature of the Soviet state and the contradictory role of the Red Army. What we ask of them is that they understand this nature and this role and that they apply their understanding adequately at every occasion. My article was devoted to Stalin’s politics and not to the nature of the Soviet state. In the Mexican bourgeois press, there was published an anonymous statement asserting “from sources near to Trotsky” that I approve Stalin’s international politics and that I am seeking a reconciliation with Stalin. I don’t know whether such statements appeared also in the United States’ press. It is clear that the Mexican press reproduced only in its own manner the terribly serious accusation of MacDonald and Company about my capitulation to Stalinism. In order to prevent such a misuse of the internal discussion by the world bourgeois press, I devoted my article in Liberty to the unmasking of Stalin’s role in international politics and not at all to the sociological analysis of the nature of the Soviet state. I wrote what I found more urgent for that moment. Politics consists not in saying at each occasion everything one knows, but in saying at the given occasion just what is necessary. Possibly I coincided thereby with some assertions of the opposition, but surely the corresponding assertions of the opposition were only a repetition of thoughts that we expressed a thousand times before MacDonald appeared on our horizon.

But we will pass to more serious things. Comrade Abern’s letter to me is an absolutely clear enunciation of his will to split. The justification he gives is simultaneously lamentable and scandalous these are the two mildest words I can find. If “Cannon’s clique” should have the majority in the convention, it will, you see, transform Abern and his associates into “second-class” citizens. This is why he, Abern, prefers to have his own state where he will be like Weisbord, Field and Oehler, the first of the first-class citizens. Who can decide about the places of different “citizens” inside the Party? The Party itself. How can the Party come to a decision? Through a free discussion. Who took the initiative in this discussion? Abern and his associates. Where or are they limited in the use of their pen or their tongue? Not at all. They didn’t succeed, it seems from Abern’s letter, in convincing the Party. Worse than that: they discredited themselves a bit in the eyes of the Party and the International. This is very regret table because they are valuable people. They could re-establish their authority now only by assiduous and serious work in the Party. It needs time, patience and firmness. But it seems that Abern lost hope in ever convincing the Party based on the principles of the Fourth International. The split tendency is a kind of desertion. This is why it is so lamentable.

But it is also scandalous The underlying tone is the contempt of petty-bourgeois elements for the proletarian majority: We are such excellent writers, speakers, organizers, and they, the uncultivated people, are incapable of appreciating us at face value. Better to build our own league of elevated souls.

In the Third International we persisted with all our power to remain a tendency or a faction. They persecuted us, they deprived us of all the means of legal expression, they invented the worst calumnies, in the USSR they arrested and shot our comrades – in spite of all we didn’t wish to separate ourselves from the workers. We considered ourselves as a faction to the very last possibility. And all that – in spite of the corrupt totalitarian bureaucracy of the Third International. The Fourth International is the only honest revolutionary organization in the world. We don’t have a professional bureaucracy. Our “apparatus” has no means of coercion. Every question is decided and every comrade is appreciated through methods of the most complete party democracy. If the majority of party members are mistaken, the minority can, by and by, educate them. If not before the next convention, then after it. The minority can attract new members to the Party and transform itself into a majority. It is necessary only to have a bit of confidence in the workers and a bit of hope that the workers can be imbued with confidence in the leaders of the opposition. But these leaders created in their own milieu an atmosphere of hysteric impatience. They adapt themselves to bourgeois public opinion, but they don’t wish to adapt themselves to the rhythm of development of the Fourth International. Their impatience has a class character, it is the reverse side of the contempt of petty-bourgeois intellectuals toward the workers. This is why the split tendency expressed by Abern is so scandalous

Comrade Abern in his appreciation as in his perspective is moved by hatred. And personal hatred is an abominable feeling in politics. I am sure that Abern’s attitude and his split objectives can only repulse every sound member of the opposition. Back to the Party, comrades Abern’s way is a blind alley. There is no other way than that of the Fourth International.


Coyoacan, D.F.


1. This letter was written by Trotsky in English.

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Last updated on: 12.4.2007