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 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’ which is expressed by Molotov 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 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, 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 is not an ‘antiparliamentary’ 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’ 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, 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. 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. 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 and Company that through the political friendship with Citrine, Purcell, Cook 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, 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:
(a) 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.
(b) 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.
(c) ‘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.
(d) 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, and, here too, manifest the fundamental quality of their thoughts: absolute metaphysics. We reply that Engels, after Hegel, 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, 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 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 possibilit~’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. 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, 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
Dear Comrade Groves,
I have your letter of four weeks ago. Excuse me for not answering sooner. I am at present busy with extremely important work. Aside from this, it is very difficult for me to write in English and it would take me a great deal of time to do so. In addition I did not know whether you could read German or French. At the present time there is an American comrade here who will translate this letter into English. Because of all these reasons you can understand the exceptional delay in answering you.
The same necessary work, which will take at least one and a half months, prevents me from paying close attention to the British question, which is of immeasurable importance to us. Even with regard to reading the British papers, I find little time for it. I trust that the second volume of my History of the Russian Revolution which I am now completing will serve in good stead the communists over the entire world, and especially Britain, in the current era which will bring great tremors in Europe and the rest of the world.
The above will explain why it is difficult for me to give a precise opinion at the present time on the question of the next practical steps for the British Communists and the Left Opposition. In one or two months I shall turn my attention to this. For the present I am forced to confine myself to considerations of a most general character.
One of my English friends wrote to me on the 9th October, prior to the parliamentary elections , about the fast growth of the Communist Party, and of a certain approach of the rank and file members in the ILP towards communism. My correspondent speaks also of a regrowth of the Minority movement in the trade unions and the growing leadership of the same minority in the sporadic strike movements. These isolated instances in the background of the world crisis and the national crisis which Britain is going through allows us to accept the idea that in the last two years there has been a strengthening Of the Communist Party. The elections brought an absolute disillusionment in this respect. Of the many hundreds of thousands of votes which the Labourites lost, the Party at best swung to its support 20,000 which is, in consideration of the increased total number of Voters, an invalid conjunctural fluctuation, and not by any means a serious political conquest. Where is the influence of the Party among the unemployed? Among the coal miners? Among the young generation of workers who, for the first time, voted? Actually, the election results are a horrible condemnation of the policies of the Party and the Comintern.
I have observed very little the tactics of the British party during the last year and I do not want to give judgement about what it learned, or whether it really learned anything. However, it is clear to me that independent from its recent and latest errors, the Communist Party is paying by its impotence of the past year, for the shameful and criminal politics of the Comintern, bound up with the Anglo-Russian Committee and later with the ‘Third Period’ These errors were ruinous especially for Britain.
It surprises one anew what a terrible load of humiliation, conservatism, bigotry, conciliation, respect to the summits, to titles, to riches, to the Crown, drags in its thoughts the British working class which is at the same time capable of grand revolutionary insurrections Chartism, pre-war movements of 1911, movements following the war, the strike movements of 1926).
The British proletariat, the oldest with the most traditions, is, in its thinking methods, most empirical, carries in its chest two souls, and turns, as it were, with two faces to historical events. The contemptible mercenary and servile bureaucrats of the Trade Unions and the Labour party give expression to all that is rotten, humiliating, serf-like and feudal in the British working class. Against this, the tasks of the Communist Party consist in giving expression to the potential revolutionary qualities of the British working class, which is very great and capable of developing immense explosive Powers. But in the very critical period of British history, 1925-1927, all the policies of the British Communist Party and the Comintern consisted in the slave-like assimilation of the trade union leadership, its idealization, blotting out its treason, and fastening the confidence of the working class to it. The young British Communist Party was because of this deeply demoralized. The whole authority of the October Revolution, USSR and Bolshevism, was in this year attached to the support and solidification of the conservative and servile tendencies of the British working class.
After the Labourites had used the Stalinites to the end and kicked them aside, the chapter of Trade Unionism was mechanically substituted under the caption of the ultra-Left jump to the glory of the ‘Third Period’.41 The slogan of ‘Class against Class’ was now issued, interpreted as a slogan of the struggle of a handful of Communists against the ‘social fascist’ proletariat. When yesterday Purcell and Cook were friends and trustworthy allies of the Soviet Union, today the workers who voted for Purcell and Cook transformed themselves into class enemies. This is the political orbit of the British Communist Party, or, rather, of the Communist International. Can we expect another surer way to trample the prestige of Communism and to undermine the confidence of the Party by the awakening workers?
The Moscow bureaucracy of the Communist International at every step runs against a blind alley with its nose, commands a turn either to the Left or to the Right. That is not difficult. All these Kuusinens, Manuilskys, Lozovskys, etc., are apparatus men,  free not only of serious Marxist training and revolutionary horizon, but also—and this is the important thing—from every control of the masses. Its politics has a pure chancery character. A tactical turn is for them only a new circular. The CC of the British Communist Party, according to its strength, carries out the orders. But all of these circulars, through the corresponding politics, transport themselves into the consciousness of the workers. The bureaucratic bankrupts believe that one can mechanically fasten our leadership, on to the working class: on the one side with the aid of cash and repression, on the other side with the help of abrupt leaps, the blotting out of traces, with lies and calumnies. But this is totally untrue.
The British workers think slowly, since their consciousness is filled with the rubbish of centuries. But they think. Single articles, appeals, slogans, generally pass them by unnoticed. However, whole periods of politics (Anglo-Russian Committee, ‘Third Period’) in no respect pass without a trace, at least, with the most progressive, militant critical and revolutionary section of the working class. When one imagines the education of the revolutionary consciousness as the cutting of threads on a screw, one must say that the leadership of the Comintern, at each time, does not employ the proper tool nor proper calibre, and not in the direction necessary, thereby breaking the grooves, crumbling and demolishing. Without the smallest exaggeration one can confirm that from 1923 ~ (for Britain especially from 1925) had the Comintern not existed, we would have today ‘m Britain an incomparably more important revolutionary party. The last elections illustrate with power that frightful conviction.
Here begins the task of the Left Opposition. The English communists, among whom are naturally many devoted, honest, self-sacrificing revolutionaries, cannot but be discouraged with the results of a decade of activity, and that in exclusively opportune conditions. Pessimism and indifference can also take hold of very good revolutionaries when they do not understand the causes of their own weaknesses, nor find the way out. Criticism, i.e., in the light of Marxism that openly illuminates the path of the party, its zig-zags, its errors, the theoretical roots of these errors—that is the foremost and necessary condition for the regeneration of the party. It is especially necessary, when this has not been done to begin the publication of the Most important documents of the International Left opposition concerning the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee. This is the point of departure for the British left wing
The Left Opposition in Britain, just as communism generally, has the right to count upon a promising future: British. capitalism falls from great historical heights to an abyss that is clear to all. One can, with assuredness, say that the recent elections represent the last gigantic rise of the natural ‘grandeur’ of the British bourgeoisie. However, it is the rise of a dying lamp. For these elections, official British politics will in the coming period pay heavily.
The bankruptcy of the great national heroes of the three parties, just as the bankruptcy of British capitalism, are absolutely inevitable. Despite all obstacles from the Communist International, the mole of the British revolution burrows much too well its earthy path. One has every right to hope that these elections are the last rise of reliance of the millions of workers on the capitalists, lords, intellectuals, educated and rich Persons, those united with MacDonald and the Sunday Pudding. These gentlemen will find no secret. The real secret is this: the proletarian revolution. just as the actual elections prepare to smash the conservative and servile soul of the British proletariat, it will be followed by the powerful blossom of their revolutionary soul.
Yet, immediately the victory of the conservatives brings heavy trials for the British proletariat and the deepening of international dangers. Especially does this endanger the USSR. Here we can see what little aid was brought to the USSR through the uninterrupted cry for her ‘defence’. For a period of two or three years, one expected this defence from Purcell, Hicks, Citrine and later this defence was taken up by the Communist Party against the ‘social-fascist’ proletariat. And, now, it has in the defence of the USSR all in all received 70,000 votes. All that the Left Opposition demanded, the rupture of the shameful bloc with Purcell, was charged by Stalin as a refusal to defend the USSR from British imperialism. Now we can draw the balance: Nobody has given such service to the expiring British imperialism as the Stalin school. Of course, the chief of this school earned two orders of the Garter.
The British Left Opposition must begin systematic work. You must establish our staff-centre though a small one. You must build your own publication, even on a modest scale…. It is necessary to have a steady, uninterrupted activity, to educate our cadres, although in the first stages few. The fundamental power of history is in our favour. When, in Britain, more so than elsewhere, communism in a short time can conquer the consciousness of the wide masses, so can conquer, in the same short time, within the communist movement, the supremacy of the ideas of the Left Opposition, that is, the ideas of Marx and Lenin. I sincerely wish our British friends success on this path.
With best Communist greetings Yours L. Trotsky
Letter to Reg Groves (dated 10th November, 1931), The Militant, 5th December, 1931
You have begun publication of a little monthly, The Red Flag. This is a modest step forward. We must hope that other steps will follow.
The advance of communism in Great Britain in no way corresponds to the rate of decay of British capitalism. The conservative traditions of British Politics, including the politics of the working class, are in themselves obviously insufficient to explain this. We only declare what is true and cannot be refuted when we say that above all, and, alas, with greater effect than any other factor, the progress of communism during the last years has been hindered by the leadership of the British Communist Party. It of course has not acted independently, but has only blindly followed the orders given by the leaders of the Comintern. But this does not free the British Communist bureaucracy from its responsibility or lessen the damage it has done.
A critical examination of the policy of the British Communist Party during the last eight or ten years constitutes a most important task in the education of the Left Opposition itself. You should study the official publications of the Party throughout this period carefully, digest them, and reveal the party line on the main strategical problems: its attitude towards the Labour Party, the trade unions, the Minority Movement, the colonial revolution; the united-front policy; the ILP, etc. The mere selection of the most striking quotations and the presentation of them in chronological order would expose not only the glaring contradictions of the ‘general line’, but also the inner logic of these contradictions, that is, the violent oscillation of the centrist bureaucracy between opportunism and adventurism. Each one of these tactical zigzags pushed Communists, sympathizers, and potential friends to the right, to the left, and finally into the swamp of indifference. We can say without the least exaggeration that the British Communist Party has become a political thoroughfare and retains its influence only in that section of the working class which has been forcibly driven to its side by the decomposition of both capitalism and reformism.
Along with the new printed publication, you have at your disposal a hectographed (excellently hectographed!) bulletin, The Communist. It would be extremely desirable to devote the greatest possible space in this publication to an examination of the policy of the British Communist Party along the lines indicated above, and also to a discussion of controversial questions within the Left Opposition itself. While persistently striving to widen our influence among the workers, we must at the same time concentrate on the theoretical and political education of our own ranks. We have a long and laborious road ahead of us. For this we need first-class cadres.
With all my heart I wish you success,
Letter of greetings to Red Flag (dated 19th May, 1933), The Militant, 22nd July 1933
To the Comrades of the Independent Labour Party.—You have published my Copenhagen speech on the Russian Revolution in pamphlet form. I can of course, only be glad that you made my speech accessible to British workers. The foreword by James Maxton recommends this booklet warmly to the Socialist readers. I can only be thankful for this recommendation.
The foreword, however, contains an idea to which I feel obliged to take exception. Maxton refuses in advance to enter into the merits of those disagreements which separate me and my co-thinkers from the now ruling fraction in the USSR. ‘This is a matter,’ he says, ‘on which only Russian socialists are competent to decide.’
By these few words the international character of socialism as a scientific doctrine and as a revolutionary movement is completely refuted. If socialists (communists) of one country are incapable. incompetent, and consequently have no right to decide the vital questions of the struggle of socialists (communists) in other countries, the proletarian International loses all rights and possibilities of existence.
I will allow myself, moreover, to affirm that, while refraining formally from judging the struggle which split the Russian Bolsheviks, Maxton, possibly without wishing it, has nevertheless expressed himself in hidden form on the essence of the dispute and, in effect, in favour of the Stalinist fraction, since our struggle with it concerns precisely the question as to whether socialism is a national or international matter. Admitting the possibility of the theoretical and practical solution of the problems of socialism within national limits, Maxton admits the correctness of the Stalinist fraction which bases itself on the theory of ‘socialism in one country.’
In reality, the disputes between the Russian Bolsheviks are not only Russian disputes, just as the conflicts between the Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party, and the Communist Party of Great Britain are not only British conflicts, The matter concerns not only the fate of the present Communist International but of a proletarian International in general.
The grouping of forces, not only in the USSR, but also far beyond its limits, goes along the dividing line between ‘socialism in one country’ and International Socialism. Sections of true Internationalists, taking as the point of departure the theory of permanent revolution, are to be found now in almost all the countries of the world. Their number and influence grows. I consider that on the basic questions of the struggle between us and the Stalinists, every member of the ILP not only can, but is by duty bound to arrive at his independent opinion.
On my part I am ready to help as much as I can, in print, writing or orally, every British socialist, every British worker, in the study of the disputed questions of the International.
I will be very grateful to you if you will publish this letter in your organ.
Letter to the Independent Labour Party (dated 8th August, 1933), New Leader, 25th August, 1933
The latest political decisions of the National Council of the British Independent Labour Party show clearly that after its break with the reformists the party continues to move leftward. Similar processes are to be observed in other countries: a left wing forms within the social-democratic parties which splits off at the following stage from the party and tries with its own forces to pave for itself a revolutionary path. These processes reflect on one side the deep crisis of capitalism and of reformism which is inseparably bound up therewith, and on the other—the inability of the Comintern to group around itself revolutionary currents within the proletariat.
In Britain, however, the situation is complicated more by an unheard of combination. Whereas, in other countries, the Comintern continues to treat the left socialist organizations as ‘left social fascists’ and as ‘the most dangerous Counter-revolutionists’, a permanent collaboration has been established between the ILP and the Communist Party of Great Britain. How these leaders of the Comintern combine this collaboration with the theory of social-fascism, remains a mystery. In the July issue of the theoretical organ of the Comintern, Fenner Brockway, the newly appointed secretary of the ILP, is called a ‘counter-revolutionist’ as heretofore. Why the British Communist Party made a united front this time not from below but from above moreover, with leaders who prove to be ‘counter-revolutionists, and a united front made not for one single practical action but for collaboration in general,—no mortal can solve these contradictions. But if the principles be left aside, the matter can be explained very simply: under the exceptionally favourable conditions of Great Britain the Comintern managed completely to isolate and weaken its British section by the ruinous policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee, the ‘third Period’, ‘social-fascism, and the rest; on the other hand, the deep social crisis of British capitalism pushed the ILP sharply towards the left; not heeding consistency or logic the totally discouraged Comintern grabbed this time with both hands the alliance proposed to it.
We could have and should have welcomed and heartily supported the collaboration of the ILP with the Communist Party had it not been based on evasiveness, suppressions and ambiguities on both sides.
Of the Communist Party the National Council says that it is ‘revolutionary in outlook as ourselves.’ That is all we learn with regard to the appraisal of the Communist Party and of its policy. Every serious and thinking worker will inevitably ask: why are two parties necessary if they have both an equally revolutionary outlook. This worker will be even more astonished upon learning that the leaders of one of the equally revolutionary parties consider the leaders of the other Party as ‘counter-revolutionaries’ and ‘left social-fascists’. Possibly the National Council refrains from a critical estimation of its ally so as not to undermine the alliance itself. But an alliance of revolutionary organizations which is based not on open mutual criticism but on diplomacy will be thrown over by the first gust of the political storm, like a house of cards.
The theses of the National Council explain the bloc with the Communist Party, first as a step towards the united front, secondly as a stage in the creation of a mass revolutionary party. Each of these two arguments has its weight; but mechanically placed side by side they contradict each other. The theses repeat that the united front should embrace any and all organizations of the proletariat insofar as they wish to participate in the struggle: the Labour Party, the trade unions, even the Co-operative Party. But we know well, and not from literature but from the tragic experience of the German catastrophe, that the Comintern rejects the united front with reformist (’social-fascist’) organizations. How does the ILP intend to build a united front with reformist organizations in alliance with the Communist Party: only from below and under the leadership of the communist bureaucracy guaranteed in advance? To this question there is no answer.
Mentioning in passing that the bloc with the Communist Party has pushed certain sections of the ‘official movement’ to the right, the National Council expresses the hope that these prejudices can be conquered by an active participation in daily struggles. The fact that the reactionary prejudices of the leaders of the Labour Party and of the General Council of trade unions do not frighten the leaders of the ILP only does the ILP credit. Unfortunately, however, it is not only a question of prejudices. When the communist bureaucracy declares that reformism and fascism are twins, it not only criticizes the reformist leaders incorrectly, but it provokes the rightful indignation of the reformist workers. The theses, it is true, say that the criticism of reformism should correspond to actual facts and push the reformist workers forward and not back; but the Communist Party is not mentioned in this connection by one word. What can be made of the theory of ‘social-fascism’? And how can the policy of the united front be built on this theory? To pass such questions in silence in the resolution does not mean to remove them from life. An open discussion could possibly force the Communist Party to adopt a correct position; diplomatic evasiveness can only pile up contradictions and prepare a new catastrophe for the next mass movement.
Without defining in principle their attitude to official communism (Stalinism) the theses of the National Council stop midway in their relation to reformism. The reformists must be criticized as conservative democrats and not as fascists, but the struggle with them must be no less irreconcilable because of it, since British reformisin is the main hindrance now to the liberation not only of the British but also of the European Proletariat. The policy of a united front with reformists is obligatory but it is of necessity limited to partial tasks, especially to defensive struggles. There can be no thought of making the socialist revolution in a united front with reformist organizations The principal task of a revolutionary party consists in freeing the working class from the influence of reformism. The error of the Comintern bureaucracy consists, not in the fact that they see the most important condition for the victory of the Proletariat in the leadership of a revolutionary party—that is entirely correct—but in that being incapable of gaining the confidence of the working masses in daily struggle, starting as a minority in modest roles, it demands this confidence in advance, presents ultimatums to the working class and disrupts attempts at a united front because other organizations are not willing to hand it over voluntarily the marshal’s baton. This is not Marxist Policy but bureaucratic sabotage. A secure and firm victory of the proletarian revolution—we repeat it again—is possible only under the condition that a revolutionary. that is a truly communist, party will succeed in gaining the firm confidence of the majority of the working class before the overthrow. This central question is not touched in the theses. Why? Out of ‘tact’ with regard to the ally? Not only that. There are deeper causes. Insufficient clarity of the theses with regard to the united front flows from the incomplete realizations of the methods of the proletarian revolution. The theses speak of the necessity ‘to wrest the control of the economic system and the state from the capitalist class and to transfer it to the working class.’ But how solve this gigantic problem? To this pivotal question of our epoch the theses reply with a naked phrase: ‘this can only be achieved through united action by the working class.’ The struggle for power and the dictatorship of the proletariat remain abstractions which can be easily dissolved in the amorphous perspectives of the united front.
In the realm of ready made revolutionary formulae the bureaucracy of the British Communist Party is immeasurably better equipped. Precisely in this lies now its advantage over the leadership of the ILP. And it must be said openly: this superficial, purely formal advantage may under the present circumstances lead to the liquidation of the ILP without any gain accruing to the Communist Party and to the revolution. The objective conditions have more than once pushed tens and even hundreds of thousands of workers towards the British section of the Comintern, but the leadership of the Comintern was capable only of disillusioning them and of throwing them back. If the ILP as a whole should enter today the ranks of the Communist Party, within the next couple of months one third of the new members would return to the Labour Party, another third would be expelled for ‘conciliatory attitude towards Trotskyism’ and for similar crimes, finally, the remaining third, disillusioned in all its expectations would fall into indifferentism. As a result of this experiment the Communist Party would find itself weaker and more isolated than now.
The ILP can save the workers’ movement of Britain from this new danger only by freeing itself from all unclarity and haziness with regard to the ways and methods of the socialist revolution and by becoming a truly revolutionary party of the proletariat. There is no necessity of inventing anything new in this field, all has been said well by the first four congresses of the Comintern. Instead of feeding on bureaucratic substitutes of the epigones it is better to put all the members of the ILP to the study of the resolutions of the first four congresses of the Comintern. But this alone does not suffice. It is necessary to open a discussion in the party on the lessons of the last decade which was marked by the struggle between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the Left Opposition. The content of this struggle was made up of the most important stage of the world revolutionary movement; economic and political tasks of the USSR; problems of the Chinese revolution; the policy of the Anglo-Russian committee; methods of the united front; problems of party democracy; the causes of the German catastrophe. This enormous cycle of problems cannot be passed by. These are not Russian but international problems.
In our epoch a revolutionary party cannot but be international. What is the position of the ILP on this? Having entered into an alliance with the Communist Party the ILP has not determined its international position. It broke with the Second International and made an alliance with the Third, but it also enters into a labour alliance with left socialist parties. This alliance, in its turn, is not homogeneous. There are elements in it which gravitate towards Bolshevism, but there are also elements which pull towards the Norwegian Workers’ Party. That is, in reality towards the social-democracy. What position does the ILP take on all these questions? Is it willing to share the fate of the historically already doomed Comintern, does it want to try to remain in an intermediary position (which means to return by round about ways to reformism), or is it ready to participate in the building of a new International on the foundations laid by Marx and Lenin?
To the serious reader it is clear that our criticism is least of all inspired by animosity towards the ILP. On the contrary, we see too clearly that if this party should ingloriously disappear from the scene socialism would suffer a new hard blow. And this danger exists and it is not far removed. In our epoch it is impossible to remain long in intermediary Positions. Only political clarity can save the ILP for the proletarian revolution. The aim of these lines is to help revolutionary clarity to pave its way.
Written on 24th August, 1933 and published in Red Flag, October- November, 1933
After a brief interval I am returning again to the policy of the Independent Labour Party. This is occasioned by the declaration of the ILP delegation at the Paris Conference, which permits a clear idea of the general direction the ILP is heading as well as of the stage at which it now finds itself.
The delegation considers it necessary to call a world congress of ‘all’ revolutionary parties beginning with those adhering to the Third International. ‘If the Third International proves unprepared to change its tactics and organization, the time will have come to consider the formation of a new International.’ This sentence contains the very essence of the present Policy of the ILP. Having shifted decisively to the left, to communism, the members of this Party refuse to believe that the Communist International, which has numerous cadres and material and technical means at its disposal is lost for the revolutionary movement. It is necessary, they say, to make one more test of the ability or inability of the Comintern to change its policy.
It is incorrect, even naive, to pose the question in this manner. The ability or inability of a party is not determined at a congress but in daily struggle, and particularly in times of great dangers, momentous decisions and mass action. After the victory of Hitler. for which the Comintern bears a direct responsibility, the leadership of the Comintern not only has left its policy unchanged but also has intensified its disastrous methods. This historic test has a thousand times more weight than all the declarations that the representatives of the Comintern might make at any one congress. It must not be forgotten that congresses represent elements of ‘parliamentarism’ in the workers’ movement itself. While parliamentarism is inevitable and necessary, it cannot add anything fundamentally new above what has been actually attained in mass struggle. This refers not only to the parliamentarism of the bourgeois state but also to the ‘parliamentary’ institutions of the proletariat itself. We must orient ourselves by the real activity of working class organizations and not expect any miracles from the proposed world congress.
During a period of ten years (1923-33), the Left Opposition acted as a faction of the Comintern, hoping to attain an improvement in its policy and regime by systematic criticism and an active participation in the life of the Comintern and its sections. The Left Opposition, therefore, has a colossal experience of an international character. There was not a single, important, historic event that did not force the Left Opposition to counterpose its slogans and methods to the slogans and methods of the bureaucracy of the Comintern. The struggle around the questions of the Soviet economy and the regime of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Chinese Revolution, Anglo-Russian Committee, etc., etc., remained comparatively little known to the workers’ parties of the West. But two chapters of this struggle passed before the eyes of the advanced workers of all the world: they deal with the theory and practice of the ‘third period’ and with the strategy of the Comintern in Germany.
If the Left Opposition can be blamed for anything, it is certainly not for an impatient break with the Comintern. Only after the German Communist Party, which had been gathering millions of votes, proved incapable of offering even the least resistance to Hitler, and after the Comintern refused to recognize not only the erroneousness of its policy but even the very fact of the defeat of the proletariat (in reality the victory of Hitler is the greatest defeat of the proletariat in the history of the world!) and replaced the analysis of its mistakes and crimes by a new campaign of persecution and slander against real Marxists—only after this did we say: nothing can save these people any more. The German catastrophe, and the role of the Comintern in it, is infinitely more important for the world proletariat than any organizational manoeuvres, congresses, evasive declarations, diplomatic agreements, etc. The historical judgment on the Comintern has been pronounced. There is no appeal from this verdict.
The history of the Comintern is almost unknown to the members of the ILP, which has just recently taken the revolutionary path. Besides, no organization learns only by books and files. The ILP wants independently to undergo an experience that already undergone on a much larger scale. Had this involved only the loss of a few months, one could have reconciled oneself to it despite the fact that each month of our time is much more precious than years of another period. The danger, however, is that, aspiring to ‘test’ the Comintern by drawing closer to it, the ILP may, without realizing it, follow the ways of the Comintern—and ruin itself.
The trade union question remains the most important question of proletarian policy in Great Britain, as well as in the majority of old capitalist countries. The mistakes of the Comintern in this field are innumerable. No wonder: a party’s inability to establish correct relations with the working class reveals itself most glaringly in the area of the trade union movement. That is why I consider it necessary to dwell on this question.
The trade unions were formed during the period of the growth and rise of capitalism. They had as their task the raising of the material and cultural level of the proletariat and the extension of its political rights. This work, which in Britain lasted over a century, gave the trade unions tremendous authority among the workers. The decay of British capitalism, under the conditions of decline of the world capitalist system, undermined the basis for the reformist work of the trade unions. Capitalism can continue to maintain itself only by lowering the standard of living of the working class. Under these conditions trade unions can either transform themselves into revolutionary organizations or become lieutenants of capital in the intensified exploitation of the workers. The trade union bureaucracy, which has satisfactorily solved its own social problem, took the second path. It turned all the accumulated authority of the trade unions against the socialist revolution and even against any attempts of the workers to resist the attacks of capital and reaction.
From that point on, the most important task of the revolutionary Party became the liberation of the workers from the reactionary influence of the trade union bureaucracy. In this decisive field, the Comintern revealed its complete inadequacy. In 1926-27, especially in the period of the miners’ strike and the General Strike, that is, at the time of the greatest crimes and betrayals of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, the Comintern obsequiously toadied to the highly placed strike-breakers, cloaked them with its authority in the eyes of the masses and helped them remain in the saddle. That is how the Minority Movement was struck a mortal blow. Frightened by the results of its own work, the Comintern bureaucracy went to the extreme of ultra-radicalism. The fatal excesses of the ‘third period’ were due to the desire of the small Communist minority to act as though it had a majority behind it. Isolating itself more and more from the working class, the Communist Party counterposed to the trade unions, which embraced millions of workers, its own trade union organizations, which were highly obedient to the leadership of the Comintern but separated by an abyss from the working class. No better favour could be done for the trade union bureaucracy. Had it been within its power to award the Order of the Garter, it should have so decorated all the leaders of the Comintern and Profintern.
As was said, the trade unions now play not a progressive but a reactionary role. Nevertheless. they still embrace millions of workers. One must not think that the workers are blind and do not see the change in the historic role of the trade unions. But what is to be done? The revolutionary road is seriously compromised in the eyes of the left wing of the workers by the zigzags and adventures of official communism. The workers say to themselves: the trade unions are bad, but without them it might be even worse. This is the psychology of one who is in a blind alley. Meanwhile. the trade union bureaucracy persecutes the revolutionary workers ever more boldly, ever more impudently replacing internal democracy by the arbitrary action of a clique, in essence, transforming the trade unions into some sort of concentration camp for the workers during the decline of capitalism.
Under these conditions, the thought easily arises: is it not possible to by-pass the trade unions? Is it not possible to replace them by some sort of fresh, uncorrupted organization. such as revolutionary trade unions, shop committees, Soviets and the like? The fundamental mistake of such attempts is that they reduce to organizational experiments the great political problem of how to free the masses from the influence of the trade union bureaucracy. It is not enough to offer the masses a new address. It is necessary to seek out the masses where they are and to lead them.
Impatient leftists sometimes say that it is absolutely impossible to’ win over the trade unions because the bureaucracy uses the organizations’ internal regimes for preserving its own interests, resorting to the basest machinations, repressions and plain crookedness, in the spirit of the parliamentary oligarchy of the era of ‘rotten boroughs. Why then waste time and energy? This argument reduces itself in reality to giving up the actual struggle to win the masses, using the corrupt character of the trade union bureaucracy as a pretext. This argument can be developed further: why not abandon revolutionary work altogether, considering the repressions and provocations on the part of the government bureaucracy? There exists no principled difference here, since the trade union bureaucracy has definitely become a part of the capitalist apparatus, economic and governmental. It is absurd to think that it would be Possible to work against the trade union bureaucracy with its own help, or only with its consent. Insofar as it defends itself by Persecutions, violence, expulsions, frequently resorting to the assistance of government authorities, we must learn to work in the trade unions discreetly, finding a common language with the masses but not revealing ourselves prematurely to the bureaucracy. It is precisely in the present epoch, when the reformist bureaucracy of the proletariat has transformed itself into the economic police of capital, that revolutionary work in the trade unions, performed intelligently and systematically, may yield decisive results in a comparatively short time.
We do not at all mean by this that the revolutionary party has any guarantee that the trade unions will be completely won over to the socialist revolution. The problem is not so simple. The trade union apparatus has attained for itself great independence from the masses. The bureaucracy is capable of retaining its positions a long time after the masses have turned against it. But it is precisely such a situation, where the masses are already hostile to the trade union bureaucracy but where the bureaucracy is still capable of misrepresenting the opinion of the organization and of sabotaging new elections. that is most favourable for the creation of shop committees, workers’ councils and other organizations for the immediate needs of any given moment. Even in Russia, where the trade unions did not have anything like the powerful traditions of the British trade unions, the October Revolution occurred with Mensheviks Predominant in the administration of the trade unions. Having lost the masses, these administrations were still capable of sabotaging elections in the apparatus, although already powerless to sabotage the proletarian revolution.
It is absolutely necessary right now to prepare the minds of the advanced workers for the idea of creating shop committees and workers councils at the moment of a sharp change. But it would be the greatest mistake to ‘play around’ in practice with the slogan of shop councils, consoling oneself with this ‘idea’ for the lack of real work and real influence in the trade unions. To counterpose to the existing trade unions the abstract idea of workers’ councils would mean setting against oneself not only the bureaucracy but also the masses, thus depriving oneself of the possibility of preparing the ground for the creation of workers’ councils.
In this the Comintern has gained not a little experience: having created obedient, that is, purely Communist, trade unions, it counterposed its sections to the working masses in a hostile manner and thereby doomed itself to complete impotence. This is one of the most important causes of the collapse of the German Communist Party. It is true that the British Communist Party, insofar as I am informed, opposes the slogan of workers’ councils under the present conditions. Superficially, this may seem like a realistic appraisal of the situation. In reality, the British Communist Party only rejects one form of political adventurism for another, more hysterical form. The theory and practice of social fascism and the rejection of the policy of the united front creates insurmountable obstacles to working in the trade unions, since each trade union is, by its very nature, the arena of an ongoing united front of revolutionary parties with reformist and non-party masses. To the extent that the British Communist Party proved incapable, even after the German tragedy, of learning anything and arming itself anew, to that extent can an alliance with it pull to the bottom even the ILP, which only recently has entered a period of revolutionary apprenticeship.
Pseudo-Communists will, no doubt, refer to the last congress of trade unions, which declared that there could be no united front with Communists against fascism. It would be the greatest folly to accept this piece of wisdom as the final verdict of history. The trade union bureaucrats can permit themselves such boastful formulas only because they are not immediately threatened by fascism or by communism. When the hammer of fascism is raised over the head of the trade unions, then, with a correct policy of the revolutionary party, the trade union masses will show an irresistible urge for an alliance with the revolutionary wing and will carry with them onto this path even a certain portion of the apparatus. Contrariwise, if communism should become a decisive force, threatening the General Council with the loss of positions, honours and income, Messrs. Citrine and Co. would undoubtedly enter into a bloc with Mosley and Co. against the. Communists. Thus, in August 1917, the Russian Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries together with the Bolsheviks repulsed General Kornilov. Two months later in October, they were fighting hand in hand with the Kornilovists against the Bolsheviks. And in the first months of 1917, when the reformists were still strong., they spouted, just like Citrine and Co., about the impossibility of their making an alliance with the dictatorship either of the right or left.
The revolutionary proletarian Party must be welded together by a clear understanding of its historic tasks. This presupposes a scientifically based programme. At the same time, the revolutionary party must know how to establish correct relations with the class. This presupposes a policy of revolutionary realism. equally removed from opportunistic vagueness and sectarian aloofness.
From the point of view of both these closely connected criteria, the ILP should review its relation to the Comintern as well as to all other organizations and tendencies within the working class. This concerns first of all the fate of the ILP itself.
Written on 4th September, 1933 and published in The Militant, 30th September, 1933
In the Daily Worker of 14th September I found the letter of Comrade C. A. Smith, who defends the ILP from the accusation that its delegates have participated in Paris in the building of a Two-and-One-Half International. I have no basis whatsoever to interfere in the essence of this polemic. I must point out, however, that from the letter of Comrade Smith the conclusion might be drawn that in Paris there was actually laid the foundation for a Two-and-One-Half International, although without the participation of the ILP. I consider it necessary to dispel any misunderstandings that the readers of the New Leader might have on this score.
It is true that certain organizations which occupy an intermediate position between the Second and the Third International, such as the Norwegian Workers’ Party, the French Party of the Proletarian Unity (PUP), the Italian Maximalists and others, have participated in the Paris Conference. But precisely all these organizations expressed themselves against the new International.
For the creation of the new International, not a Two-and-One Half, but a Fourth International, were the following organizations: The International Left Opposition, the Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP) of Germany, and two Dutch Socialist Parties, the Independent Socialist Party and the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Holland.
I urge the readers of the New Leader, as, however, also the readers of the Daily Worker, to acquaint themselves with the Declaration of the named organizations ‘On the Necessity and Principles of a new International.’ Here I shall quote only one paragraph (8) out of eleven.
"While ready to co-operate with all the organizations, groups and fractions which are actually developing from reformism or bureaucratic centrism (Stalinism) towards revolutionary Marxist policy, the undersigned at the same time declare that the new International cannot tolerate any conciliation towards reformism, or centrism. The necessary unity of the workers movement cannot be attained by the blurring of reformist and revolutionary conceptions, or the adaptation to the Stalinist policy, but only by combating the policies of both bankrupt Internationals. To remain equal to its task the new International must not permit any deviation from revolutionary principles in the questions of insurrection, proletarian dictatorship, Soviet form of the State, etc."
In conclusion, I allow myself to say that the International Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists) is much further removed from centrism (21/2) than the present Barbussized Comintern.
With revolutionary greetings,
From a letter to New Leader (dated 2nd October, 1933), published 13th October, 1933
It was all rather breathtaking. Driven at midnight to a station in Paris; put on a train but kept ignorant of destination; leaving the train according to instructions at a certain time; recognized by a comrade, armed with a telegraphed description of us; whirled off for a further journey; admitted past various obstacles; and finally greeted with tempestuous heartiness by Leon Trotsky himself.
We settled down to business immediately, and for over ten hours, with breaks only for meals, plied one of the world’s most distinguished revolutionaries with questions. No one could fail to be impressed by the man’s enormous vitality, or charmed by his frank and eager courtesy. Clear analytical exposition, supplemented by a wealth of vivid imagery and forceful metaphor, made his conversation both an intellectual and an aesthetic delight.
’You are aware,’ I said, ‘that at the Paris Conference of Revolutionary Socialist Parties the ILP voted against the main resolution (because we considered the condemnation of the Comintern unbalanced or exaggerated), and also against the proposal to form a Fourth International. We are consequently particularly desirous of hearing: (a) Your chief criticism of the Comintern; (b) Why you despair of its reform; (c) What action you propose taking?’
Trotsky’s criticisms, delivered with great verve and clarity, related both to the Communist International’s policy and to its organization. The latter he declared to be bureaucratic, and corruptly bureaucratic at that. Discussion is stifled, criticism regarded as disloyalty, and all who oppose the bureaucratic tops expelled as heretics.
Bolshevik self-criticism, said Trotsky, is a departed glory. In the early days, even during the Civil War, perfect freedom of discussion was the rule. In the Red Army there was strict military discipline with severe punishment, yet even there in policy discussions private soldiers, as party members, frequently attacked Lenin (as well as Trotsky himself), or the Central Committee as a whole, and criticized them unsparingly. During the Civil War a Congress was held every year, with an additional Congress in a case of emergency; now five years pass and there is no Comintern Congress.
Functionaries of the Comintern Praesidium are changed by the decree of the Political Bureau of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union). Brandler, the German CP leader, criticized the Comintern policy in Germany. He was summoned to Moscow and detained there several years, finally getting away by extraordinary methods. If a man refuses to go to Moscow when ordered thither he is immediately expelled from the party.
This suppression of internal criticism, insisted Trotsky, arises from the determination of the Stalinist faction to retain control in the teeth of a wrong policy. But the results of bureaucratic rule themselves influence policy. The bureaucratic mind has an essential distrust of the masses, and in consequence develops the usual characteristics of bureaucracies, whatever their time or place. Specifically, the present Russian bureaucracy differs from the bourgeois bureaucracies of the capitalist countries, in that the former desires to preserve the Soviet Union and the latter desire to overthrow it. Generically. however, they are identical in outlook and methods.
Decisions are taken without consulting the rank and file, and every art of lying, concealment and repression is used to compel acceptance of the line laid down by the executive, often out of touch with the situation it is attempting to control. Further, the bureaucracy never dares to admit its mistakes, which are the more grave the more the bureaucracy considers itself infallible. The most glaring instance of this refusal to admit mistakes is afforded by the German debacle.
The Cl line there was tragically wrong, declared Trotsky, and many of the ablest communist leaders recognize this. It led the German workers to certain and frequently predicted disaster. Yet immediately after the disaster, the CI solemnly declared that its line had been correct!
This same distrust of the masses was revealed through the history of the Anglo-Russian Committee, when the CI recognized as the representatives of the British workers the trade union bureaucracy—even during the actual days of their betrayal of the General Strike of 1926!—and worse still, after it. Bureaucratic distrust was shown in the CI’s terrible mishandling of the Chinese Revolution, when they placed it under the direction of the bourgeois Kuomintang, which, as Trotsky had foretold, soon after betrayed it with massacre and torture.
Bureaucratic distrust is shown repeatedly, continued Trotsky, in the CI’s attitude to other organizations, where, despite the slogan of United Front from Below, the aim has been not so much to mobilize the revolutionary workers as to capture the organizational apparatus. All of this, reinforced by the financial control of the CI bureaucracy over its national sections, breeds a mentality of dependence, of unquestioning obedience, which is the very antithesis of the critical and independent mind required for a revolutionary ’What were the Comintern errors in Germany?, I interpolated.
’The mistakes have continued for ten years: missing the revolutionary situation in 1923 (the Occupation of the Ruhr); steering a course to armed uprising after the relationship of forces had radically changed against the proletariat; a turn towards ‘courting’ the Social-Democracy (1926-1927); a new turn towards adventurism (’Third Period,’ conquest of the streets, etc.); a radically false policy with regard to the trade unions; the replacement of educational work by ‘ultimatism’; the creation of tiny parallel trade unions—that is, the isolation of the party from the class; the theory of social-fascism and the renunciation of the policy of the united front; nationalistic agitation and the adaptation to fascism (national liberation’ of Germany, the participation in the Prussian plebiscite together with the Nazis); systematic destruction of all defence organizations established by local workers’ organizations.
’Social-democracy and fascism are not twins, as the CI declared,’ insisted Trotsky. ‘True, Social- Democracy supports the bourgeoisie; but it does not (despite treacherous leaders) support fascism, whose victory signifies the extermination of Social-Democracy as a party.’
’What are your chief criticisms of the present policy of the CI?’ I asked.
’Chiefly, the theory of "Socialism in one country" and its resultant policy of "centrism".’ Trotsky defined centrism as the sum total of all the tendencies between Marxism and reformism which move from one to the other. The CI bureaucracy is predisposed to become reformist, but cannot do so because it is tied to the Soviet state. Yet it cannot be revolutionary because it has abandoned the theory of world revolution. So it swings between the two poles and remains centrist.
’Secondly, the theory of socialism in one country is not an abstract principle, but a matter of life and death. The present crisis in capitalism arises not only from the contradiction between productive forces and private property, but also from that between productive forces and national states. The task of socialism is not to push back the productive forces within the boundaries of a single state, but, on the contrary, to organize them on a world scale. And this presupposes the world revolution, which ought to be the basis of the Comintern’.
This is not incompatible with the rapid industrialization of Russia. It was Trotsky who in 1923 was pleading in speech and writing for a Five-Year Plan, when Stalin was deriding him as an optimist. When the bureaucracy was at length converted to this optimism, they swung into the opposite extreme and fell into the error of ‘Socialism in one Country’.
’Do you support the proposal for an industrial and transport boycott of fascist Germany at the earliest possible moment?’
’Yes, at the earliest suitable moment; it is only a question of capacity.’
’At the Paris Conference,’ I said, ‘The ILP urged an amendment calling for a protest or demonstration strike of definite and limited duration with regard to some special Nazi outrage, but this was rejected.’
’This time the ILP line was the perfectly correct revolutionary policy,’ replied Trotsky.
Next I asked: ‘Why do you despair of the Comintern’s correcting its policy?’
’First, because there is no democracy within the party and critics who attempt to correct its line are expelled. Secondly, this fight is not of recent origin: it started ten years ago. The crucial instance is Germany. If that cannot convince the bureaucracy of its errors, then nothing can. And if the ILP is still to wait hopefully a little longer, how much longer will you wait, and what evidence will finally satisfy you? The destruction of the now endangered Soviets would surely be too high a price for the enlightenment of the ILP!’
’Then what do you think must be done?’
’Form the Fourth International’ said Trotsky, ‘to include all revolutionaries who accept the principles of Marx and Lenin, and know that, the Second and Third Internationals are both bankrupt -the one through reactionary reformism and the other through bureaucratic centrism. We of the International Left Opposition are ready, however, to make a united front with the Comintern bureaucracy for the specific purpose of defending the Soviet Union.’
’And what is your advice to the ILP?’
’To remain independent at all costs, until it has completed its movement from reformism to revolution, from an empirical to a theoretical basis. You require a firm grasp of the revolutionary theory of the capitalist state. a correct evaluation of social and economic forces. adequate information of the movement of revolution and reaction outside Great Britain and a definite plan of the revolutionary course within Britain—a plan flexible in detail but rigid in principle.’
Regretfully we took our leave to catch the night train to Paris. More than once we turned back to salute the erect figure of the former Red Army leader, who stood waving repeated farewells. While not prepared to accept all his conclusions, we were glad to have heard his own statement of his case. So, too, we believe, will be the majority of revolutionary socialists in Britain.
Interview with C. A. Smith (29th August, 1933), New Leader, 13th October, 1933
On the question of the ILP, the Secretariat has altered so much of my proposition that it suggests to our British section —if my information is correct—that some comrades should not enter the ILP, so that they can continue publishing the paper. This plan, after a long conversation with Smith (who makes the best impression personally), seems to me of no use. The ILP, and this is to its credit, has expelled two members because they were also members of the Communist Party. The ILP will also distrust us for the same reason. This distrust can only be overcome if our people get into the ILP with the desire to influence the party as a whole and to become powerful there but not to work toward breaking away a small part from the whole party.
The publication of a small, monthly paper under the circumstances is senseless, because the same articles are published at the same time or earlier in The Militant. We can make good use of The Militant as a central organ’ for our internal work within the ILP.
Comrade Witte is travelling to Britain, and it would be very good if he would discuss and examine the whole question from this point of view with the British comrades.
I am of the opinion, under the given circumstances, that the British section in relation to the ILP must use the tactic applied by the Brandlerite minority toward the SAP. If we only send a part of our membership into the ILP and keep a publication going outside of it, then we are in danger of getting our members expelled from the ILP in a very short time. Our mutual relations would be poisoned by this, and we would lose, because of our outside action, the possibility of gaining considerable influence.
From a letter on the International Left Opposition and the ILP (dated 3rd September, 1933) Internal Bulletin, British Section Of the Left Opposition 24th October 1933
I have not yet received your letter in which you motivate your negative attitude to the entry into the ILP. But, so as not to delay this matter, I shall try to examine the principled considerations for and against the entry. If it should happen that your letter contains additional arguments I shall write you again.
In its present state, the ILP is a left-centrist party. It consists of a number of factions and shadings that are indicative of the different stages of evolution from reformism to communism. Should the Bolshevik-Leninists enter into the Official Communist Parties, which they had long designated, and with full reason, as centrist organizations? For a number of years, we have considered ourselves Marxist factions Of centrist Parties. A categorical answer—yes, yes; no, no—is insufficient also in this case. A Marxist party should, of course, strive to full independence and to the highest homogeneity. But in the process of its formation. a Marxist Party often has to act as a faction of a centrist and even a reformist party. Thus the Bolsheviks adhered for a number of years to the same party with the Mensheviks. Thus, the Third International only gradually formed itself out of the Second.
Centrism, as we have said more than once. is a general name for Most varied tendencies and groupings spread out between reformism and Marxism. In front of each centrist grouping it is necessary to place an arrow indicating the direction of its development: from right to left or from left to right. Bureaucratic centrism, for all its zigzags. has an extremely conservative character corresponding to its social base: the Soviet bureaucracy. After a ten-year experience, we came to the conclusion that bureaucratic centrism does not draw nearer and is incapable of drawing nearer to Marxism, from the ranks of which it emerged. It is precisely because of this that we broke with the Comintern.
While the official Communist Parties have been growing weaker and decomposing, left flanks have separated from the reformist camp, which has grown considerably in numbers. These flanks also have a centrist character, but they move towards the left and, as demonstrated by experience, are capable of development and yield to Marxist influence. Let us recall once more that the Third International originated from organizations of this sort.
A clear example of the above is furnished by the history of the German SAP. A few hundred communists who split off from the Brandlerite opposition and entered the SAP have succeeded in a comparatively short time in placing themselves at the head of this organization, which, for the most part, consists of former Social-Democratic members. At that time we criticized the group of Walcher-Fršlich, Thomas and others not because they resolved to enter a left-centrist party, but because they entered it without a complete programme and without an organ of their own. Our criticism was,and remains correct. The SAP bears even now traces of shapelessness. Some of its leaders even now consider irreconcilable Marxist criticism as ‘sectarianism.’ In reality, however, if the Left Opposition with its principled criticism had not been standing at the side of the SAP, the position of the Marxists within the SAP would have been incomparably more difficult; no revolutionary group can live without a constantly creative ideological laboratory. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the movement of the centrist party (SAP) to the left was so decisive that the communist group, even without a complete programme and without an organ of its own, found itself very soon at the head of the party.
The history of the SAP is neither a chance one nor an exceptional one. For a number of years the Comintern prevented by its policy the going-over of the socialist workers to the revolutionary road. A mass of explosive material accumulated, therefore, in the camp of reformism. The frightful crisis of capitalism and the triumphal march of fascism, accompanied by the absolute impotence of both Internationals, gave the left-centrist organizations an impulsion towards communism; this is one of the most important prerequisites for the creation of new parties and of a new International.
In the area of theory, the ILP is completely helpless. This gives an advantage to the official Communist Party—herein lies the danger. This opens up the field for the intervention of our British section. It is not sufficient to have correct ideas. In a decisive moment one must know how to show one’s strength to the advanced workers. As fax as I call judge from here, the possibility for influencing the further development of the ILP as a whole is not yet missed. But in another couple of months, the ILP will have completely fallen between the gear wheels of the Stalinist bureaucracy and will be lost, leaving thousands of disappointed workers. It is necessary to act and to act immediately.
It is worth entering the ILP only if we make it our purpose to help this party, that is its revolutionary majority to transform it into a truly Marxist party. Of course, such an entry would be inadmissible if the Central Committee of the ILP should demand from our friends that they renounce their ideas, or the open struggle for those ideas in party. But it is absolutely admissible to take upon oneself the obligation to fight for one’s views on the basis of the party statutes and within the limits of party discipline. The great advantage of the Left Opposition lies in the fact that it has a theoretically elaborated programme, international experience and international control. Under these conditions, there is not the slightest basis for the fear that the British Bolshevik-Leninists will dissolve without a trace in the ILP
Some comrades point out that the ILP has greatly weakened that behind the old front a ramshackle structure hides itself. This is very possible. But this is not an argument against entry. In its present composition, it is clear, the ILP is not viable. It is getting weaker and is losing members not only on the right but also on the left, because its leadership has no clear policy and is not capable of imbuing the party with confidence in its strength. it is Possible to stop this further disintegration of the ILP only by imparting to it Marxist views on the problems of our epoch, and in Particular a Marxist analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Only the Bolshevik-Leninists can do this work. But to do this they must courageously destroy the wall that divides them today from the revolutionary workers of the ILP. If the apparatus Of the ILP should not admit our section into the ranks of its Party, this would be the best proof that the leadership has completely submitted to the Stalinist bureaucracy behind the back of the party. In this case worst case we would acquire a strong weapon against the leaders and would gain the sympathy of the rank-and file members of the ILP.
It may be objected that the small size of our British section would not permit it to play the same role with regard to the ILP that the group of Walcher-Fršlich played with regard to the SAP. Possibly.
But even if the ILP is doomed to disintegrate, the Bolshevik-Leninists; can save for the revolution an important kernel of this party. It must also not be forgotten that the group of Walcher-Fršlich was completely isolated, while our British friends can count on international help in their work.
1 am very much afraid that our British friends, at least some of them, are restrained from entering the ILP by the fear of malicious criticism of the Stalinists. There is nothing worse in revolutionary policy than to be actuated by purely external, superficial criteria or by the fear of public opinion of the bureaucracy only because we were connected with it in the past. It is necessary to determine one’s road in accordance with the deep currents within the proletarian vanguard, to trust more in the power of one’s ideas without looking back at the Stalinist bureaucracy.
G. Gourov [Leon Trotsky]
Letter to the British Section, Bolshevik- Leninists (dated 16th September, 1933), Internal Bulletin, British Section of the Left Opposition, 24th October, 1933
Comrade Paton of the ILP offered to place my articles on the ILP in the magazine Adelphi. My reply will be clear from the copy of my letter attached hereto.
No doubt you have received the extract from the minutes of the plenum of the International Secretariat from which it is clear that the suggestion to enter the ILP was adopted by the plenum unanimously. I cannot understand who could have supplied you with such false information. At any rate, it was not Comrade Witte, who participated actively in the meetings of the plenum and voted for the general resolution. It is clear, of course, that I am far from the thought that the unanimous opinion of the plenum obligates you to submit to it silently. The plenum adopted not a decision but a proposal. The proposal, however, was considered and discussed very seriously and adopted unanimously.
Comrade Fenner Brockway asked my permission to print in The New Leader an article by Comrade Smith relating my conversation with him. Of course, I gave my approval Thus you will get an idea of the general nature Of my conversation which coincides almost to the dot with the contents of my article sent to you.
1 continue to believe that the fate of our British section for the next couple of years depends on a correct attitude toward the ILP. It was Shakespeare who counselled taking advantage of the time of the tides so as not to remain on the strand all life long. With great impatience and concern I am awaiting your final decision in this matter.
Letter to the British Section, Bolshevik- Leninists (dated 16th September, 1933), Internal Bulletin, British Section of the Left Opposition, 24th October, 1933
I received a copy of your letter of September 5 and allow myself to express a few additional considerations on the question of entry into the ILP.
1. We do not exaggerate the significance of the ILP. In politics as in the physical world, everything is relative. In comparison with your small group, the ILP is a big organization. Your small lever is insufficient to move the Labour Party but can have a big effect on the ILP.
2. It seems to me that you are inclined to look at the ILP through the eyes of the Stalinist party, that is, to exaggerate the number of Petty-bourgeois elements and minimize the proletarian elements of the Party. But if we should estimate that the workers make up only 10 Per cent (an obvious underestimation since you ignore the [illegible words]), even then You will get one thousand revolutionary-minded workers. and in reality many more.
3. The jump from a thousand to ten thousand is much easier than the jump from forty to one thousand.
4. You speak of the advantages of influencing the ILP from the outside. Taken on a wide historical scale, your arguments are irrefutable. but there are unique. exceptional circumstances that we must know how to make use of by exceptional means. Today the revolutionary Workers of the ILP still hold on to their Party. The Perspective of joining a group of forty, the principles of which are little known to them, can by no means appeal to them. If within the next year they should grow disappointed with the ILP, they will go not to you but to the Stalinists, who will break these workers’ necks.
If you enter the ILP to work for the Bolshevik transformation of the party (that is, of its revolutionary kernel), the workers will look upon you as upon fellow workers, comrades, and not as upon adversaries who want to split the party from outside.
5. Had it been a question of a formed, homogeneous party with a stable apparatus, entry in it would not only be useless but fatal. But the ILP is altogether in a different state. Its apparatus is not homogeneous and, therefore, permits great freedom to different currents. The revolutionary rank and file of the party eagerly seek solutions. Remaining as an independent group, you represent, in the eyes of the workers, only small competitors to the Stalinists. Inside the party you can much more successfully insulate the workers against Stalinism.
6. I believe (and this is my personal opinion) that even if you should give up your special organ you will be able to use to advantage the press of the ILP, The New Leader and the discussion organ. The American Militant as well as the International Bulletin could well supplement your work.
7. Should all the members of your group enter the ILP? This is a purely practical question (if your members who work inside the Communist Party of Great Britain have a wide field for their activity, they can remain there longer, although I personally believe that the useful effect of their work would be, under the present conditions, a few times greater in the ILP).
8. Whether you will enter the ILP as a faction or as individuals is a purely formal question. In essence, you will, of course, be a faction that submits to common discipline. Before entering the ILP you make a public declaration: ‘Our views are known. We base ourselves on the principles of Bolshevism-Leninism and have formed ourselves as a part of the International Left Opposition. Its ideas we consider as the only basis on which the new International can be built. We are entering the ILP to convince the members of that party in daily practical work of the correctness of our ideas and of the necessity of the ILP joining the initiators of the new International.’
In what sense could such a declaration lower the prestige of your group? This is not clear to me.
Of course, the International Secretariat did not intend to and could not intend to force you by a bare order to enter the ILP. If you yourselves will not be convinced of the usefulness of such a step, your entry will be to no purpose. The step is an exceptionably responsible one; it is necessary to weigh and consider it well. The aim of the present letter, as well as of the foregoing ones, is to help in your discussion.
With best comradely greetings,
Letter to the British Section (dated 2nd October, 1933), Internal Bulletin, British Section of the Left Opposition, 24th October, 1933
I am informed that the ILP has weakened considerably in the last period. Its membership, it is claimed, has fallen to four thousand. It is possible, , even very probable, that this report is exaggerated. But the general tendency does not seem to me improbable. I will say more: the leadership of the ILP bears a considerable share of responsibility for the weakening of the organization before which all the conditions opened up and—I want to hope—still open up a wide perspective.
If a worker barely awakened to political life seeks a mass organization, without distinguishing as yet either programmes or tactics, he will naturally join the Labour Party. A worker disillusioned with reformism and exasperated by the betrayals of the political and trade union leaders has attempted more than once—and to some extent is attempting even now—to join the Communist Party, behind which he sees the image of the Soviet Union. But where is the worker who will join the ILP? And exactly what Political motives will impel him to take this step?
It seems to me that the leaders of the ILP have as yet not given themselves a clear answer to this cardinal question. Working masses are not interested in shadings and details but in great events, clear slogans, far-seen banners. What is the situation with the ILP’s banner? Not well. I say this with great regret. But it must be said. To suppress or embellish the facts would be rendering a poor service to your party.
The ILP broke away from the Labour Party. That was correct. if the ILP wanted to become the revolutionary lever, it was impossible for the handle of this lever to be left in the hands of the thoroughly opportunist and bourgeois careerists. Complete and unconditional political and organizational independence of a revolutionary party is the first prerequisite for its success.
But while breaking away from the Labour Party, it was necessary immediately to turn toward it. Of course, this was not to court its leaders, or to pay them bittersweet compliments, or even to suppress their criminal acts—no, only characterless centrists who imagine themselves revolutionaries seek a road to the masses by accommodating themselves to the leaders, by humouring them and reassuring them at every step of their friendship and loyalty. A policy of this sort is a road that leads down to the swamp of opportunism. One must seek a way to the reformist masses not through the favour of their leaders, but against the leaders, because opportunist leaders represent not the masses but merely their backwardness, their servile instincts and, finally, their confusion. But the masses have other, progressive, revolutionary traits that strive to find political expression. The future of the masses is most clearly counterposed to their past in the struggle of programmes, parties, slogans and leaders. Instinctively working masses are always ‘for unity.’ But besides class instinct there is also political wisdom. Harsh experience teaches the workers that a break with reformism is the prerequisite for real unity, which is possible only in revolutionary action. Political experience teaches all the better and faster, the more firmly, logically, convincingly and clearly the revolutionary party interprets the experience to the masses.
The Leninist method of the united front and political fraternization with reformists exclude each other. Temporary practical fighting agreements with mass organizations even headed by the worst reformists are inevitable and obligatory for a revolutionary party. Lasting political alliances with reformist leaders without a definite programme, without concrete duties, without the participation of the masses themselves in militant actions, are the worst type of opportunism * The Anglo-Russian Committee remains forever the classic example of such a demoralizing alliance.
One of the most important bridges to the masses is the trade unions, where one can and must work without accommodating to the leaders in the least, on the contrary, struggling irreconcilably against them openly or under cover, depending on the circumstances. But besides the trade unions, there are numerous ways of participating in the daily life of the masses—in the factory, on the street In sport organisation even in church and saloon, under the condition that the greatest heed to be paid to what the masses feel and think, how they react to events, what they expect and what they hope for, how and why they let themselves be deceived by reformist leaders. Observing the masses constantly and most thoughtfully, the revolutionary party must not, however, adapt itself Passively to them (chvostism [tail-ending] on the contrary, it must counterpose their judgement to their Prejudices.
It would be particularly wrong to ignore or minimize the importance of Parliamentary work. Of course, parliament cannot transform capitalism into socialism Or improve the conditions of the proletariat in rotting capitalist society. But revolutionary work in parliament and n connection with parliament, especially in Britain, can be of great help in training and educating the masses. One courageous exclamation of McGovern refreshed and stirred the workers, who had been deceived or stupefied by the Pious, hypocritical, flag-waving speeches of Lansbury, Henderson and other gentlemen of His Majesty’s Opposition’ of flunkeys.
Unfortunately, having become an independent party, the ILP turned not toward the trade unions and the Labour Party, not toward the masses altogether, but toward the Communist party, which had during a number of years conclusively Proven its bureaucratic dullness and absolute inability to approach the class. If even the German catastrophe taught these people nothing. then the doors of the Comintern should bear the Same inscription as the entrance to hell: Lasciate ogni speranza [Leave all hope behind].
The ILP had not freed itself by far of all the defects of the Left wing of the Labour Party (theoretical vagueness, lack of a clear programme, of revolutionary methods, of a strong organization) when it hastened to take upon itself the responsibility for the incurable failmgs of the Comintern. It is clear that in this situation new revolutionary workers will not join the ILP; rather, many of its old members will leave it, having lost patience. If semi-reformists, petty-bourgeois radicals and Pacifists leave the ILP, we can only wish them a happy journey. But it is a different matter when discontented workers quit the party.
The causes for the enfeeblement of the ILP are seen with special clarity and precision when the problem is approached from the international point of view, which is of decisive importance in our epoch. Having broken with the Second International, the ILP approached the Third, but did not join it. The ILP is simply hanging in mid-air. Meanwhile, every thinking worker wants to belong to the kind of party that occupies a definite international position: in the unbreakable union with co-thinkers of other countries he sees the confirmation of the correctness of his own position. True, the ILP enters the so-called London Bureau. But the chief characteristic of this Bureau consists, unfortunately, in the absence of all position. It would suffice to say that the Norwegian Labour Party, which under the leadership of the treacherous opportunist Tranmael goes ever more openly along the Social Democratic road, belongs to this Bureau. Tranmael and Co. need the temporary alliance with the ILP and with other left organizations to pacify their own left-wing and gradually to prepare for themselves the way to the Second International. Now Tranmael is approaching the harbour.
On the other side, the Socialist Workers Party of Germany (SAP) and the Independent Socialist Party of Holland (OSP) also belong to the London Bureau. Both these organizations stand on the point of view of the Fourth International. Their adherence to the Bureau merely reflects their past. We, the International Communist League (Left Opposition), have considered and now consider it a great mistake of our allies, the SAP and the OSP, that they have not yet broken openly and decisively with Tranmael and with the London Bureau in general. We do not doubt, however, that the hour of such a rupture is near.
What is the position of the ILP? Entering the London Bureau, it becomes by this very fact an ally of Tranmael, that is, essentially of the Second International. Through the SAP and the OSP, it becomes a sort of ally, or semi-ally, of the Fourth International. This is not all—outside the London Bureau, the ILP finds itself in a temporary alliance with the British Communist Party, that is, with the Third International. Are there not somewhat too many Internationals for one party? Can the British worker make head or tail out of this confusion?
At the Paris Conference, the ILP delegates said that they did not lose hope of attracting the Comintern to participate in the building of a broad revolutionary International. Nearly a half year has elapsed since them. Is it possible that no answer has come yet? How much time do the leading comrades of the ILP need to understand the Comintern is incapable of making one step forward, that it is completely ossified, that as a revolutionary party it is dead? If the ILP wants to continue waiting for miracles, that is, to live in hopes on the Comintern, or to remain outside of the main historic currents, its own members will inevitably lose confidence in it.
The same fate awaits the Swedish Independent Communist party. For fear of making an error, it abstains from all decision, not realizing that precisely this is the greatest error. In general, there are not a few politicians who consider evasiveness and waiting for problems to solve themselves as the highest wisdom. ‘Do not hurry with the Fourth International,’ they say, ‘now is not the time. ’It is a matter not of bureaucraticallv ‘Proclaiming’ the new International but of uninterrupted struggle for its preparation and building. ‘Not to hurry’ means in practice to lose time. ‘Perhaps the new International will not be needed, perhaps ‘a miracle will happen, perhaps … ‘ This policy, which seems to some people very realistic, is the worst type of utoptanism, spun out of passivity, ignorance and belief in miracles. If the Swedish Independent Communist Party will not shake off its Pseudo-realistic superstitions, it will weaken, waste away and finally be torn between three Internationals.
’But the masses,’ object some pseudo-realists, are as afraid of a new International as of a new split.’ This is absolutely natural. The masses’ fear of a new party and of a new International is a reflection (one of the reflections) of the great catastrophe, the terrible defeat, the disillusionment of the masses, their bewilderment, their disbelief in themselves. How long these moods will last depends Mainly on the course of events but to a certain extent also on us. We do not bear any responsibility for the course of events, but we answer fully for our own attitude. The advantage of the vanguard over the masses is that we illuminate theoretically the march of events and foresee its future stages. The formless ‘ passive longing for ‘unity’ will receive blow after blow. The rottenness of the Second and Third Internationals will be revealed at each step. Events will confirm our prognosis and our slogans. But it is necessary that we ourselves not be afraid to unfurl our banner right now.
Lassalle used to say that a revolutionary needs the ‘physical power of thought.’ Lenin liked to repeat these words, although, in general, he did not like Lassalle’ much. The physical power of thought consists in analyzing the situation and perspectives to the very end and, having come to the necessary practical conclusions, defending them with conviction, courage, intransigence, not fearing someone else’s fears, not bowing before prejudices of the masses but basing oneself on the objective course of development.
The ILP of Great Britain must place itself right now under the banner of the Fourth International, or it will disappear from the scene without leaving a trace.
Letter to a member of the ILP (dated 5th January, 1934), The Militant, 27th January, 1934
The lack of a real ideological position on the part of Comrades Bauer and P. N. appears most plainly on the question of the ILP. Bauer was in favour of the entry of the British section into the ILP from its beginning. P. N. was against this, but after his trip to Britain, having become aware of the actual situation at first hand, he recognized the incorrectness of his original position. To set up an ideological difference between the ILP and the SFIO, especially the latter’s Parisian organization and the Young Socialists, is simply ridiculous. Neither P. N. nor Bauer has made any attempt to explain the difference in their ideological stand with regard to Britain and France.
However the experience of the British section, on a small scale, is highly instructive. The ‘majority’ maintaining its ‘organizational autonomy’ actually finds itself in a state of constant internal strife and division. Certain leaders have left the organization altogether. On the other hand, the ‘minority’ that entered the ILP has maintained its internal solidarity and its connection with the international Bolshevik-Leninists, has made large use of the publications of the League in America and has had a series of successes inside the ILP. We must learn from the example.
From a summary of discussion at a meeting of the Communist League of America (6th August, 1934), Internal Bulletin No. 17 of the Communist League of America, October 1934.
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- ), 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 Staliriists.
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 (qqv). 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 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 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. I have just received the ‘Resignation Letter’ of Lloyd George to his parliamentary party, which totally confirms this supposition.
9 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.
10. 77 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. ‘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 AJ. Muste’s Conference for Progressive Labor Action.
14. The name used by Left Oppositionists in the early period to draw the line against the Stalinists’ break from Leninist theory and practice.
15. 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 Mueller 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.
16. 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.
17. A body of trade unionists was organized under the leadership of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1924 from the militant rank and file in many industries. It built up support and its conferences secured increasing representation up to the 1926 General Strike. However, it never really broke from its syndicalist antecedents and came under the control of Stalinist policies, collapsing under the suicidal dual unionist policies of the Comintern in the late 1920s.
18. Otto Kuusinen (1881-1964) was a Finnish social democrat who fled to the Soviet Union after the collapse of the Finnish Revolution of 1918. He became a Comintern functionary and a consistent supporter of Stalinist policies. He was Comintern Secretary from 1922 to 31. Dimitri Manuilsky (1883-1952) was at one time a member of the independent Marxist organization, Mezhrayoritzi, along with Trotsky, and with him joined the Bolsheviks in 1917. In 1919 he became one of the leaders of the Ukranian government. Thereafter he was a supporter of Stalin, being particularly associated with the ‘left’ phases of his policies, replacing Ktiusinen as Secretary of the Comintern in 1931, and himself giving way to Dimitrov in 1935. Details of Trotsky’s assessments of these and other Comintern leaders of the period can be found in his article ‘Who Is Leading the Comintern To-day?’, in Trotsky’s The Third International After Lenin.
19. The term ‘Central Committee’ for the leading body of the CPGB came into use only in the late 1920s. The same body was at first called the ‘Executive Committee’ and then ‘Central Executive Committee’ after the 1922 Reorganization Report. By the 1950s there had been a reversion to the original title reflecting the CP’s pretensions to Bolshevik forms of organization.’
20. This was the first printed paper produced by the British Trotskyist movement. It appeared monthly from May 1933 to November 1934, under the rubric ‘Organ of the Communist League’, and from the late summer of 1936 to June 1937 as the voice of the Marxist League.
21. This was the first publication of the British Trotskyist movement, appearing in May 1932arid being described as the ‘Monthly Theoretical Organ of the British Section of the International Left Opposition’.
22. In Defence of the October Revolution lecture to an audience of Social-Democratic students in Copenhagen, 27th November, 1932
23. The theory of ‘socialism in one country’ was developed by Bukharin and taken up in 1924 by Stalin as the platform of the rising bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, and represented a complete break from Marxism. In the next period it became the programme of betrayal of revolutionary opportunities in Germany and China, and also led to the failure of the General Strike in Britain, further consolidating the position of the bureaucracy within the Soviet Union. This same theory was used to impose the needs of the Soviet bureaucracy on the Communist International as a whole, in the form of the draft programme for the Sixth Congress in 1928. Trotsky’s reply to this document, which analyses the class roots of ‘socialism in one country’, is contained in The Third International after Lenin.
24. This was Trotsky’s most important contribution to Marxist theory in the period before 1917. It was a view he formulated in 1906 that because of the weakness and backwardness of the Russian bourgeoisie, any revolutionary upheaval would be forced to go beyond the anti-feudal (bourgeois) phase to the anti-capitalist (socialist) one. Furthermore, the revolution which thus took place could only develop in co-operation with the more advanced capitalist countries where the initial revolutionary thrust might be weaker. This view was in all essentials accepted by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917, and the Russian Revolution of November 1917 was based on its assumptions.
25. A year after breaking from the Labour Party, the ILP’s NAC ‘ meeting in July 1933, attempted to hammer out a programme in which the parliamentary struggle would be secondary to a campaign of agitation industrially. The ILP was to intervene more forcibly in trade unions, trades councils, the NUWM, and to set up ‘Workers’ Councils’ to agitate against wage cuts etc. and ‘to act for the working class in a revolutionary crisis’.
26. When Hitler came to power in 1933 the German working class was not only disarmed by the refusal of the Social Democratic leaders to fight (they went so far as to offer to participate in the Nazi Labour Front), but by the ultra-left policy of the Stalinists, who branded the Social-Democrats as ‘social fascists’ and wrecked the possibility of uniting social-democratic and communist workers in defence of rights.
27. The Norwegian Workers’ Party (NAP) referred to elsewhere as the Labour Party, first won representation in the National Assembly in 1906, and in the following period was influenced by syndicalism under its leader Martin Tranmael (1879-1967), who was for a time associated with some of the groups that set up the Industrial Workers’ of the World in the United States. In 1919 the majority of the party supported the call for a Third International and delegates were sent to early congresses, but the y never really agreed with its basic principles, and in 1923 they left, a minority seceding to form Norwegian CP. The NAP did not at first re-join the Second International being associated with the Paris conference of 1933 and other centrist international movements. In 1934 they opposed the establishment of a new International and began to co-operate with social-democratic parties in the other Scandinavian countries. In the following year, as the governing party in Norway, they granted asylum to Trotsky, but under Soviet pressure they soon interned and silenced him for four months and then deported him to Mexico. Finally, in 1938, the party returned to its spiritual home in the Second International.
28. This was the meeting in August 1933 of the group of centrist organizations then known as the International Labour Community but more usually as the ‘London Bureau’ (see note). These organizations in some cases rallied to the Fourth International, but mostly disintegrated or liquidated themselves into Stalinism or social democracy.
29. This material is in print, however, in a series of studies and documents published partly also in foreign languages. For the British comrades, the publications of the American League (Pioneer Publishers) are of great importance. Whoever wishes to study seriously the ten-year struggle of the Left Opposition for the reform and improvement of the Comintern must study all these documents. L. T.
30. The Profintern (Red International of Labour Unions) was founded on the initiative of the Communist International in July 192 1, bringing together trade unions and trade union federations opposed to the Amsterdam reformist trade union international. Like the Comintern, it degenerated into an instrument of Stalinist policy and collapsed long after it had ceased to pursue revolutionary aims.
31. These were parliamentary seats before the Reform Act of 1832 where very small electorates were controlled by rich patrons who could decide on the MP and his policies.
32. Trotsky refers to the July-August period of the Provisional Government when Petrograd was threatened by the counter-revolutionary General Kornilov. The reformist Mensheviks and petty-bourgeois Socialist-Revolutionaries were forced to unite against him.
33. Paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain, founded 1st January 1930 and ever since reflecting every twist and turn in the policies of Stalinism.It name was chnaged in 1966 to Morning Star, to facilitate its orientation to middle class circles and the Labour ‘lefts’.
34. The original name of the ILP paper was Labour Leader .in 1922 when Brailsford took over as editor, the name was changed to New Leader. It was published as such until 1946, when the much depleted ranks of the ILP began to produce Socialist Leader, which still appears.
35. In November 1929 six Parisian CP municipal councillors, including Louis Sellier, a Party General Secretary six years previously, were expelled for opposition to the party’s ultra-left line. In the following month they established an organization known as the ‘Parti Ouvrier et Paysan’. They soon afterwards joined with a group also expelled from the CP to form the ‘Parti d’UnitŽ Proletarienne’ (PUP), publishing a paper called Que Faire? (What is to be Done?) Trotsky characterized them as a rightward-moving group comparable to the followers of Brandler and Lovestone, and unable to answer the question they posed in the title of their paper.
36. A centrist tendency within the Italian Socialist Party which continued to exist in exile after Mussolini’s suppression of the working class movement. Affiliated to the London Bureau.
37. 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 (I887- ) 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.
38. The Dutch Revolutionary Socialist Party was established in 1929 by Henryk Sneevliet (I883-1942), a leading revolutionary of both the Netherlands and Indonesia who had left the Dutch CP in 1927. It supported the 1933 call in the London Bureau for a new international. It was joined in this by the Dutch Independent Socialist Party, which then split from its own right wing and merged with Snecvliet’s organization in 1935 to form the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party of the Netherlands. It continued, however, to remain associated with the London Bureau, breaking all connections with Trotskyism in 1938.
39. Henri Barbusse (1873-1935) was a talented French who produced a fine anti-war novel, Le Feu (Under Fire), in 1916. He established a literary magazine in 1917 called Clarte which generally supported pacifist and leftist causes, and in 1921 declared that Communism sprang from ‘the eternal truths of reason and conscience’. On this idealist basis he joined the Communist Party in 1923 and became a notorious Stalin-worshipper. He was associated with the earliest steps in Popular Front policy such as the 1932 Amsterdam conference. He died in Moscow at the Seventh Comintern Congress when such policies were being given the final Stalinist seal of approval.
40. Heinrich Brandler (1881-1967) was a building worker from the Sudetenland. Active in the left wing of the German Social Democratic Party before 1914, he played a major role in the Communist Party from its foundation, assuming the leadership i n 1923. Blamed for the defeat of that year, he was removed from his post and spent a long period in Moscow. He set up the Communist Party Opposition, which associated itself with Bukharin’s criticisms of Stalin’s ultra-left turn of 1928. Expelled from the German CP and the Comintern in 1929, he operated as part of an International Right Opposition with Lovestone, Pepper and others, and maintained a political organization, mainly in exile in France, at least until the outbreak of the Second World War, showing little ability to adopt a consistent criticism of Stalinism ‘ particularly over the Moscow Trials. After the war, he returned to live in West Germany.
41. In this period the Comintern leadership under Stalin forced the young Communist Party to work under the control of the bourgeois nationalist Kuornintang, then coming under the leadership of the reactionary Chiang Kai-Shek. CP members pushed the revolution forward in the cities and were murdered in their thousands by Chiang. All efforts to come to terms with the Kuomintang, including its left section under Wang Ching-wei, came to nothing. Wang became a Japanese puppet and died in 1934 and Chiang ultimately accepted the patronage of the American imperialists to be dictator of a regime set up in the island of Taiwan. The full story of the Comintern’s role in the events of 1926-7 can be found in Trotsky’s Problems of the Chinese Revolution.
42. In 1931 the Nazis and their me right wing allies managed to get a plebiscite in Prussia in an effort to force out of office the regional government, then run by the social democrats. Although the German Communist Party leaders at first wanted to oppose this, under the direct orders of the Comintern they decided to vote with the Nazis against the social democrats. This incident represented for Trotsky one of the most criminal results of the ‘third period’ policies of Stalin.
43. After their expulsion from the CPGB in August-September 1932, mainly for their opposition to the Amsterdam conference’s policies, the so-called ‘Balham Group’ formed themselves into the ‘Communist League’ and in May 1933 began to produce the Red Flag. At this point the group began to discuss Trotsky’s suggestion that they should enter the ILP and though by the end of the year only a minority agreed they nevertheless proceeded to do so.
44. The interview reported in extract 27.
45. The first paper ever produced in English by the Trotskyist movement, and the one with the greatest continuity. It began as a twice-monthly in November 1928, shortly after the expulsion of Cannon, Shachtman and Abern from the CPUSA, and was. published in New York.
46. Though not himself Greek, the man who used this name represented the Greek section of the International Left Opposition on the International Secretariat based in Paris. He came to Britain in the autumn of 1933 in part to discuss with Trotsky’s British Supporters the view of the IS that they should enter the ILP and in part to inform Trotsky on the general situation of the left in Britain. Shortly after his return to Paris he came into sharp conflict with Trotsky leading to considerable disruption of the Greek section and not long after to Witte’s disappearance from the movement for good.
47. These were all Brandlerites who assumed the leadership of the SAP in 1933. The political itinerary of Jakob Walcher is outlined in a previous note. As for Paul Fršlich (1884-1953) he wrote a biography of Rosa Luxemburg which reflected his right wing attitudes and anti-Trotskyism. He later returned from exile in the United States to West Germany, where he joined the Social Democratic Party. Bernhard Thomas, who was of Russian origin, went into exile in Sweden.
48. Founded in 1923 by John Middleton Murry as a quarterly and published in London. Primarily a literary journal at the outset, from 1932 it took an increasing interest in left-wing Politics, particularly those within the ILP, and was one of the few open forums in the period where the Stalinists never managed to prevent the appearance of articles sympathetic to Trotskyism.
49. ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men/ Which taken at the flood leads onto fortune;/Omitted, all the voyage of their life/ is bound in shallows or in miseries.’ Brutus’ speech, Julius Caesar, IV iii 217.
50. The name usually given to the group of centrist organizations which split from the and Second International in 1931. After the failure of the ‘Vienna Union’ or Two-and-a-half International in 1923 to fulfil the role of intermediary between the reformist and revolutionary internationals, some of those involved, particularly Fenner Brockway cherished the idea of forming a similar body for some time afterwards. Thus when the ILP began its left-moving phase during the second Labour Government, he got the leadership to agree in 1930 to approach other ‘left’ organizations for the establishment of such a body. This was discussed with some of the parties involved at the July 1931 meeting of the Second International in Vienna, and during a continental tour made the following year by Brockway and McGovern. In April 1932 a loose federation of centrist organizations was set up in Berlin under the name International Labour Community. This body, which would probably have been entirely forgotten otherwise, assumed some importance in 1933 when a number of those associated with it began to call for the establishment of a Fourth International. Thus Brockway and his allies began their balancing trick between Stalinism and Trotskyism which sometimes earned their organization the title of the ‘Three-and-a-half International’. The official name was changed to the International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity in 1935, though they were most usually known as the ‘Seven Left Parties’ or the ‘London Bureau’. Although a number of groups did join the Fourth International, most of them, if they had any significant following, supported the popular front line—the SAP in Germany being one example—or else evolved into a familiar variety of left reformism, as in the case of the Norwegian Labour Party. Perhaps the most disastrous result of the activities of the London Bureau was to lend a certain credibility to the Spanish POUM, which made itself a prisoner of the Popular Front, with terrible consequences for the Spanish working class.
51. Established by Karl Kilboom and most of the former leaders of the Swedish Communist Party after their refusal in 1929 to support the ultra-left turn of the Comintern. It was later known as the Socialist Party of Sweden and was actively associated with the centrist London Bureau before it eventually turned to social democracy.
52. Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-1864), German petty-bourgeois writer and lawyer. In 1848-9 he took Part in the democratic movement in the Rhenish province and early in the 1860s joined the German working class movement, becoming one of the founders of the General Association of German Workers (1863). He stood for the unification of Germany from above tinder Prussian hegemony, negotiated with Bismarck behind the backs of the workers’ movement, and advocated state-financed co-operatives, foreshadowing the later opportunist trends in the leadership of the German working class. Remained an idealist all his life. His theory of’ the iron law of wages’ was strongly attacked by Marx.
53. These were members of a tendency within the international Trotskyist movement who were opposed to the entry of the French section into the social democratic party. Eugene Bauer, though a member of the International Secretariat, broke from the movement on this question, and in October joined the ASP. Pierre Naville (b.1904) was one of Trotsky’s earliest supporters in France and eventually followed the rest of the section into the Socialist Party. After further disagreements, he left the Trotskyist movement during the Second World War, and after it was a member of various centrist organizations, most recently the PSU (Unified Socialist Party).
54. After the chief organizations of French social democracy (the Socialist Party of France led by Jules Guesde and the French Socialist Party of Jean Jaurés) were united in 1905, they adopted the title French Section of the (Second) Workers’ International, partly to symbolize the role of the International in the fusion. The majority of this party seceded at the Tours Congress of 1920 to form the French Communist Party and those reformists who remained kept this title.