Leon Trotsky On
Excerpts from his writings

Trotskyism versus Centrism in Britain—Part III

The decline of the ILP


Dear Comrade,
It is with great astonishment that I read the report of the conference of the Independent Labour Party in the [London] New Leader of April 17, 1936. I really never entertained any illusions about the Pacifist parliamentarians who run the ILP. But their political position and their whole conduct at the conference exceeds even those bounds that can usually be expected of them. I am sure that you and your friends have drawn approximately the same conclusions as we have here. Nevertheless I cannot refrain from making several observations.

1. Maxton and the others opine that an Italo-Ethiopian war is conflict between two rival dictators’. To these politicians it appears that this fact relieves the proletariat of the duty of making a choice between two dictators. They thus define the character of the war by the political form of the state, in the course of which they themselves regard this political form in a quite superficial and purely descriptive manner, without taking into consideration the social foundations of both ‘dictatorships’. A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history. For example: Oliver Cromwell, Robespierre, etc. On the other hand, right in the midst of the English democracy Lloyd George exercised a highly reactionary dictatorship during the war. Should a dictator place himself at the head of the next uprising of the Indian people in order to smash the British yoke—would Maxton then refuse this dictator his support? Yes or no? If no, why does he refuse his support to the Ethiopian ‘dictator’ who is attempting to ward off the Italian yoke?

If Mussolini triumphs, it means the re-enforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of the Negus,[1] however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this.

2. McGovern puts the ‘poor little Abyssinia’ of 1935 on the same level with the ‘poor little Belgium’ of 1914; in both cases it means support of war. Well, ‘poor little Belgium’ has 10,000,000 slaves in Africa, whereas the Abyssinian people is fighting in order not to become the slave of Italy. Belgium was and remains a link of the European imperialist chain. Abyssinia is only a victim of imperialist appetites. Putting the two cases on the same plane is sheerest nonsense.

On the other hand, to take up the defence of Abyssinia against Italy in no way means to encourage British imperialism to war. At one time this is just what was very well demonstrated in several articles of the New Leader . McGovern’s conclusion that it should have been the ILP’s task ‘to stand aside from quarrels between dictators’, is an exemplary model of the spiritual and moral impotence of pacifism.

3. The most shameful thing of all, however, only comes after the voting. After the conference had rejected the scandalous pacifist quackery by a vote of 70 to 57, the tender pacifist Maxton put the revolver of an ultimatum at the breast of the conference and forced a new decision by a vote of 93 to 39. So we see that there are dictators not only in Rome and in Addis Ababa, but also in London. And of the three dictators, I consider most harmful him who grabs his own party by the throat in the name of his parliamentary prestige and his pacifist confusion. A party that tolerates such conduct is no revolutionary party; for if it surrenders (or ‘postpones’) its principled position in a highly important and topical question because of threats of resignation made by Maxton. then at the grave moment it will never withstand the immeasurably mightier pressure of the bourgeoisie.

4. By an overwhelming majority, the conference forbade the existence of groups inside the party. Good! But in whose name did Maxton put an ultimatum to the conference? In the name of the parliamentary group which regards the party machine as its private property and which actually represents the only faction that should have been sharply drubbed into respect for the democratic decisions of the party. A party which dissolves the oppositional groups but lets the ruling clique do as it jolly well pleases, is no revolutionary party. It will not be able to lead the proletariat to victory.

5. Fenner Brockway’s position on this question is a highly instructive example of the political and moral insufficiency of centrism. Fenner Brockway was lucky enough to adopt a correct point of view in an important question, a view that coincides with ours. The difference lies in this, however, that we Marxists really mean the thing seriously. To Fenner Brockway, on the contrary, it is a matter of something ‘incidental’. He believes it is better for the British workers to have Maxton as chairman with a false point of view than to have a correct point of view without Maxton. That is the fate of centrism—to consider the incidental serious and the serious thing incidental. That’s why centrism should never be taken seriously.

6. In the question of the International, the old confusion was once more sealed, despite the obvious bankruptcy of the previous perspective. In any case, nothing more is said about the ‘invitation’ from the Third International. But the centrist doesn’t take anything seriously. Even when he now admits that there is no longer a proletarian international, he nevertheless hesitates to build one up. Why? Because he has no principles. Because he can’t have any. For if he but once makes the sober attempt to adopt a principled position in only one important question, he promptly receives an ultimatum from the right and starts to climb down. How can he think of a rounded-out revolutionary programme under such circumstances? He then expresses his spiritual and moral helplessness in the form of profound aphorisms, that the new International inust come ‘from the development of socialist movements’, that is, from the historical process which really ought to produce something some day. This dubious ally has various ways, however: he even got to the point of reducing the Leninist International to the level of the Second. Proletarian revolutionists should therefore strike out on their own path, that is, work out the programme of the new International and, basing themselves on the favourable tendencies of the historical process, help this programme gain prevalence.

7. Fenner Brockway, after his lamentable capitulation to Maxton, found his courage again in struggle against the undersigned. He, Brockway, cannot allow a new International to be constructed from ‘the heights of Oslo’. I leave aside the fact that I do not live in Oslo and that, besides, Oslo is not situated on heights. The principles which I defend in common with many thousand comrades, bear absolutely no local or geographical character. They are Marxian and international. They are formulated, expounded and defended in theses, brochures and books. If Fenner Brockway finds these principles to be false, let him put up against them his own. We are always ready to be taught better. But unfortunately Fenner Brockway cannot venture into this field, for he has just turned over to Maxton that oh-so-paltry parcel of principles. That is why there is nothing left for him to do save to make merry about the ‘heights of Oslo’, wherein he promptly commits a threefold mistake: with respect to my address, to the topography of the Norwegian capital and, last but not least, to the fundamental principles of international action.

My conclusions? The cause of the ILP seems to me to be hopeless. The 39 delegates who, despite the failure of the Fenner Brockway faction, did not surrender to Maxton’s ultimatum, must seek ways of preparing a truly revolutionary party for the British proletariat. It can only stand under the banner of the Fourth International.

Leon Trotsky

A letter to a British comrade (dated 22nd April, 1936), published in Unser Wort , May 1936

Collins: Should the Marxist Group[2] oppose or favour Communist Party affiliation to the Labour Party?

Trotsky: The question becomes sheer pedantry and completely meaningless in view of the smallness, the weakness and lack of clear perspective in the group itself. However, whatever the position of the group, it is essential to support critically the affiliation of the Communist Party—for two reasons. 1) If we refuse to support, we shall be riding against the mass desire for unity. 2) That the mistakes of the Communist Party in the Labour Party and their inevitable alliance with the bureaucracy will give us the opportunity of winning their best elements. But only if we are inside the Labour Party ourselves. The whole question revolves around the italicized sentence. If that is ignored, all speculation is metaphysical and has nothing in common with Marxism.

Collins: Whom do you think is correct—Cooper or Matlow—on the question of the group perspective?

Trotsky: In my opinion, Matlow is 100 per cent correct. In view of the international situation England must inevitably develop in common with the rest of Europe. That must give rise to a strike wave in the near future, which will drive the last nail into the coffin of the ILP. The ILP is not a mass but a propaganda organization, and since their propaganda is centrist and not revolutionary, this dying corpse must be completely swept away during a working class resurgence. I consider that the rigid, formalistic position of the Cooper paper has no relationship to Marxism at all. It shows a complete lack of comprehension of the class struggle. The idea of remaining inside the ILP for a further period in order to win a few more wavering elements, whilst the Communist Party is rapidly penetrating into the mass organizations, is ridiculous. We can only win these wavering elements in the ILP by our entry into the Labour Party and the effective work we will do in there. The waverers remaining in the ILP will inevitably leave in disgust as the ILP disintegrates further, and in their attempt to find a new orientation must inevitably come to us in the Labour Party, if we adopt a correct line at once. The argument that it is still possible to win a few more of the waverers in the ILP is sheer formalism, as for every one that we might win in the ILP there are hundreds in the Labour Party. The argument that we may be able to capture the apparatus of the ILP is at best hypothetical, and even if successful must mean a struggle of years in view of the strength of the bureaucracy. We have not eternity before us. We are too generous with our time, which is very precious; and we are not rich enough to spend it at such a rate. The experience of the Belgian and French sections[3] demonstrates conclusively the tremendous possibilities that unfold themselves inside the mass reformist organizations. Unless we accept that perspective we can play no significant revolutionary role in the history of Great Britain.

Collins: Since we have already missed the opportunity of the plebiscite issue, what issue can we raise in order to split from the ILP?

Trotsky: It is essential to choose a political issue comprehensible to the broad mass of workers. To raise a fight on the existence of legal groups within the ILP would be completely useless. I can only offer some suggestions from this distance. A struggle raised to commit the ILP on our theses at our recent conference is one possibility, particularly the thesis on the revolutionary upsurge already printed in the French paper. Possibly, however, a better example would be the question of the ILP affiliation to the Labour Party. That question we must pose immediately and as strongly as possible.

Collins: Should the group place any conditions upon the entry of the ILP into the Labour Party?

Trotsky: That kind of knightly courtesy has no place in politics. Since the ILP bureaucracy have made our group illegal and have suppressed our paper,[4] it would be ridiculous for us to fight for privileges on behalf of the ILP. Our duty is to get into the Labour Party, with or without the ILP, as rapidly as possible. It is not possible for me from this distance to choose either the precise issue or the time to be taken in the struggle for the split. If we remember that time is precious and the matter is extremely urgent, we will not go far wrong. In any event, the suggestion of a time limit such as the next annual conference of the ILP in April is incomprehensible to me. The European situation is developing so rapidly that history will not wait for the ILP conference.

Collins:How shall we enter the Labour Party and how shall we work within it?

Trotsky: In view of the weakness of the Marxist Group, it may be necessary to cater as individuals first and spend one, two or three months in exploring the avenues of work. The important thing is to get in. Once in, opportunities will rapidly unfold. It is understood that regardless of how we enter, we will have a secret faction from the very beginning. Our subsequent actions will depend on our progress within the Labour Party. It is very important that we do not lay ourselves open at the beginning to attacks from the Labour Party bureaucracy, which will result in our expulsion without having gained any appreciable strength. Our first attacks must be directed against the inconsistency of the centrists and not the bureaucracy. That again must be determined by what we find once we are inside. Obviously, we will not be able to raise the issue of the Fourth International immediately. History will provide the opportunity for raising that issue. The question of the Fourth International is not a burning issue to the masses of Great Britain today. If we take a revolutionary position on the popular issues that concern the masses today, then inevitably we will be able to develop towards the question of the Fourth International. At all costs we must be very careful to avoid either sectarianism or opportunism—we must continually have our fingers on the pulse of the masses. It is well to remember that as the political situation develops, revolutionary work will be increasingly dangerous and we will be better protected within the broad masses of the Labour Party than in the isolated and rotting corpse of the ILP, if even a corpse remains by then. It will undoubtedly be correct to leave a few capable comrades within the ILP to do fraction work. As regards the Marxist Group when we enter the Labour Party, a situation may rapidly arise requiring one or two of our best speakers to bring forth our complete revolutionary position thus deliberately inviting expulsion for themselves, as martyrs are useful to every movement. Such expelled comrades will find useful avenues of work, e.g., in the Lenin Club.

Collins: Do you think that the idea of the Lenin Club, as developed by the ILP group, will be useful in our future work within the Labour Party?

Trotsky: That will also depend on the concrete conditions that we find in the Labour Party, but from this distance it would appear that it could serve a useful function. But if it is to be of any use, it must be democratically controlled with representatives from all the Bolshevik-Leninists and not merely the ILP group. Anything else would be pure sectarianism.

Collins: Should the paper proposed by James be run as an independent organ of the acknowledged Trotskyists within the political organizations such as the Labour Party or as the organ of the Lenin Club without party affiliation?

Trotsky: That is difficult to say, as it must obviously depend on objective conditions. In any case, we must first make every effort to merge with the Groves-Dewar group.[5]

I understand from Comrade Collins that previous approaches to Groves-Dewar have met with rebuffs. Even if that remains true once we are inside the Labour Party, the supporters of Groves-Dewar must realize that we are 100 per cent with them and further rebuffs from their two leaders should result in their coming over to us. In the event of our failure to secure the Red Flag as the organ of our tendency, then we will have to decide which is better for our work—an independent Lenin Club organ, or a group paper within the Labour Party. To me this question is not of first rate importance, as in any case the Stalinists would expose our connection with a Lenin Club paper. This development on the part of the Stalinists we can anticipate without any question. just as the Labour bureaucracy serves as the police of capitalism within the ranks of the working class, so the Stalinist leaders will act as the police of the Labour Party bureaucracy. This identification of the Labour Party and Communist Party bureaucracies will afford us an excellent opportunity to win over the rank and file of the Communist Party. The entire question of a paper and of a Lenin Club becomes formalistic and unreal while we remain outside the Labour Party and isolated from the masses.

Collins: What should our attitude be towards Peace Councils?[6]

Trotsky: The question of the Peace Council bears a certain resemblance to that of the People’s Front. For example, in France, we tell the workers that we know that the People’s Front is all wrong. While the workers support it, we say to them that we are perfectly willing to collaborate loyally with the working class organizations, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, but we refuse under any circumstances to have anything to do with the bourgeois participants in the People’s Front. We do not shout: ‘Down with the People’s Front!’ at present because we have nothing to replace it as yet. In the same manner, we cannot turn our backs on the Peace Councils and say ‘Down with the Peace Councils!’ because as yet there is no revolutionary party to give a clear lead on the question of war and peace. In the analogy, however, there is this fundamental difference. One is a question of state power in a revolutionary situation. The other is a question of using existing committees as long as they are supported by mass workers’ organizations. Therefore, it is necessary to get representatives wherever possible on the Peace Councils and to direct our attacks in the beginning against certain of the bourgeois participants (who these will be depends on the reaction of the workers to our propaganda). It is understood, of course, that the very first task of revolutionaries in any mass organization is to demand that it be democratically controlled by the workers. That agitation will give us our first opportunity of attacking the private invitations given out by the Communist Party bureaucrats to so-called progressive bourgeois figures. By attacking the leading bourgeois pacifists and subsequently the participation of all bourgeois elements, we will inevitably run counter to the class-collaborationist policies of the LP-CP bureaucrats. We can then say to the workers: ‘We have our differences with Comrades Morrison, Pollitt and Lansbury, but we are perfectly willing to work loyally with them. They, however, wish to expel us because we refuse to work with open class enemies.’ This will have the effect of making the LP-CP bureaucrats bear the responsibility of open class collaboration before the workers. This situation correctly used will discredit not only the bureaucrats but also the entire idea of Peace Councils. But it is first necessary to get on to them.

Collins: How can we best deal with the very important colonial question, a fundamental question which we have so far almost entirely ignored?

Trotsky: A study of the first four congresses of the Comintern is essential. In addition, the general theses of the Fourth International of the colonial question will serve to indicate the general line, but the concrete application will be determined by the special situation.

Collins: Is it even possible to consider at this stage an independent existence outside the mass organizations?

Trotsky: The fact that Lenin was not afraid to split from Plekhanov in 1905 and to remain as a small isolated group bears no weight because the same Lenin remained inside the Social Democracy until 1912 and in 1920 urged the affiliation of the British Communist Party to the Labour Party. While it is necessary for the revolutionary party to maintain its independence at all times, a revolutionary group of a few hundred comrades is not a revolutionary party and can work most effectively at present by opposition to the social patriots within the mass parties. In view of the increasing acuteness of the international situation, it is absolutely essential to be within the mass organizations while there is the possibility of doing revolutionary work within them. Any such sectarian, sterile and formalistic interpretation of Marxism in the present situation would disgrace an intelligent child of 10.

Interview with Collins , Internal Bulletin of the Marxist Group, Summer 1936

Let us take the ILP question. I really cannot reproach myself with any precipitateness on this question. For years I followed the evolution of this party, quite calmly and objectively. After Schmidt’s and Paton’s visit to me,[7] from which I learned a great deal, I wrote a series of articles and letters of an entirely friendly kind to the ILP people, sought to enter into personal contact with them and counselled our English friends to join the ILP in order, from within, to go through the experience systematically and to the very end. Since the last visit of Comrades R. and A.,[8] I formulated my observations in this sense, that there isn’t much to be done with the ILP. The three of us worked out a definite proposal for our British comrades (a manifesto to the party, collection of signatures, etc.). Comrade Schmidt went to England and judged the plan to be incorrect. Naturally, this was not without its influence on the comrades, as well as on me. I immediately said to myself: Schmidt knows the situation in the ILP better than I do; perhaps he sees in the ILP such aspects as escape me; therefore the decision should perhaps be postponed in order to see the effect of the latest big events (the war in Abyssinia, etc.) at the coming party conference of the ILP. To lose two to three months in a critical period is always a great loss. But it seemed to me, after comrade Schmidt’s intervention, that it is necessary to go through this new experience. Well, it is now already behind us. To continue now with an effort to revive the illusion which has been shattered to bits, would be nothing less than to inflict a bad service on the cause. In times of calm, one can live on illusions for a long period; in a period of crisis, if one does not take into account the hard facts, that is, the actual policy of centrism and pacifism, and consequently their deeds, but considers one’s own wishes and sentiments, one courts the danger of becoming the shadow of the centrists and pacifists and of compromising and destroying one’s own organization. That is why I deem it absolutely necessary for our comrades to break openly with the ILP and to transfer to the Labour Party where, as is shown especially by the experience in the Youth, much more can be accomplished.

From a letter to the Central Committee of the RSAP (Holland) (dated 15th July, 1936), Informatie en Discussie Bulletin, 1st July, 1937

Trotsky: Great Britain and the ILP? It is also a special task. I followed it a bit more closely when I was in Norway. It seems to me that our comrades who entered the ILP had the same experience with the ILP that our American comrades made with the Socialist Party. But not all our comrades entered the ILP and they developed an opportunistic policy so far as I could observe and that is why their experience in the ILP was not so good. The ILP remained almost as it was before while the Socialist Party is now empty. I do not know how to approach it now. It is now a Glasgow organization. It is a local machine and they have influence in the municipal machine and I have heard that it is very corrupt. It is a separate job of Maxton. Rebellions of the rank and file are a familiar thing in the ILP. In preparing for a new convention Fenner Brockway becomes a patron of the rebellious section and secures a majority. Then Maxton says he will resign. Then Fenner Brockway says, ‘No, we will abandon our victory. We can give up our principles, but not our Maxton.’ I believe that the most important thing is to compromise them—to put them in the mud -the Maxtons and the Brockways. We must identify them with class enemies. We must compromise the ILP with tremendous and pitiless attacks on Maxton. He is the sacrificial goat for all the sins of British movement and the especially the ILP. By such concentrated attacks on Maxton, systematic attacks in our press, we can expedite the split in the ILP. At the same time we must point out that if Maxton is the lackey of Chamberlain, then Fenner Brockway is the lackey of Maxton.

James:[9] What do you think of an independent paper for the work of slashing at Maxton, etc?

Trotsky: It is a practical question. In France, if our section enters the PSOP I believe that the International Secretariat should publish the Quatriéme Internationale for all French-speaking countries twice-monthly. It is simply a question of the juridical possibility. I believe that even if we work inside the Labour Party we must have an independent paper, not as opposed to our comrades within, but rather to be outside the control of the ILP.

From the transcript of a discussion with C. L. R, James, held in April 1939, published in the Internal Bulletin (Socialist Workers Party), 20th December, 1939


Of the ILP it is not worth while speaking at length. I will only recall a very recent fact. The leader of this party, Maxton, thanked Chamberlain in Parliament after the Munich pact and declared to astonished humanity that by his policy Chamberlain had saved the peace—yes, yes, had saved the peace!—that he’ Maxton, knew Chamberlain well and he assured that Chamberlain had ‘sincerely’ fought the war and ‘sincerely’ saved the peace, etc., etc. This single example gives a conclusive and what is more a pretty crushing characterization of Maxton and of his party. The revolutionary proletariat rejects Chamberlain’s ‘peace’ just as it does his war. The ‘peace’ of Chamberlain is the continuation of the violence against India and other colonies and the preparation of the war in conditions more favourable for the British slaveholders. To take upon himself the slightest shadow of responsibility for the policy of ‘peace’ of Chamberlain, is not possible for a socialist, for a revolutionist, but only for a pacifist lackey of imperialism. The party that tolerates a leader like Maxton and actions like his public solidarization with the slaveholder Chamberlain is not a socialist party but a miserable pacifist clique.

From a letter to Daniel Guerin (dated 10th March, 1939), Byulleten Oppozitsii, March-April 1939

Trotsky: What is … dangerous is the sectarian approach to the Labour Party. You say that I put forward the slogan of Blum-Cachin[10] without reservations. Then you remember, ‘All power to the soviet!’ and you say that the united front has no soviet. It is the same sectarian approach.

James: We have had difficulty in Britain with advocating a Labour government with the necessary reservations.

Trotsky: In France in all our press, in our archives and propaganda, we regularly made all the necessary reservations. Your failure in Britain is due to lack of ability; also lack of flexibility, due to the long domination of bourgeois thought in Britain. I would say to British workers, ‘You refuse to accept my point of view. Well, perhaps I did not explain well enough. Perhaps you are stupid. Anyway I have failed. But now, you believe in your party. Why allow Chamberlain to hold the power? Put your party in power. I will help you all I can. I know that they will not do what you think, but as you don’t agree with me and we are small, I will help you put them in.’ But it is very important to bring up the questions periodically. I would suggest that you write an article discussing these points and publish it in our press.

From the transcript of a discussion with C.L.R. James held in April 1939, published in the Internal Bulletin (SWP), January 1940

Stalinism and Centrism


The, Secretary of the Independent Labour Party of Great Britain, Fenner Brockway, runs to the aid of Pritt, the King’s Counsellor, with a plan to save the Moscow falsifiers. Pritt Number One tried to resolve the task juridically. Pritt Number Two considers the task politically. An international inquiry into the Moscow trials, according to Fenner Brockway’s way of thinking, is impermissible because it might arouse ‘prejudice in Russia and in Communist circles.’ Fenner Brockway thus recognizes beforehand that an impartial verification could not confirm the Moscow accusations and justify the executions. On the contrary, Brockway is convinced that an honest and open inquiry can only ‘prejudice’ Stalin’s clique and ‘Communist circles.’ That is precisely why Pritt Number Two proposes to organize an ‘inquiry into the role of Trotskyism in the Working Class Movement.’ In other words: instead of establishing the objective truth regarding the monstrous, criminal accusations, Brockway proposes a partisan political trial against his ideological adversary. Furthermore, Brockway considers—and who can know Brockway better than himself -that he is marked in advance by the finger of fate to assume an initiative of this nature. He even points magnanimously to a future jury of ‘4 or 5 persons’ who have ‘objective analytical minds.’ As candidates Brockway names: the Austrian social-democrat Otto Bauer, the ‘Danish’ (Swedish?) lawyer Branting,[11] the head of the Socialist Party of the United States, Norman Thomas,[12] and …a ‘good Frenchman. ‘This commission, to which he hopes, according to his own words, to assure the indispensable finances, will pass a judgement on the ‘role of Trotskyism in the Working Class Movement.’ It is difficult to imagine a more ridiculous and, at the same time, a more cunning project! My ‘attitude in respect to the Working Class Movement,’ leaving aside my forty years of revolutionary activity, is expressed at present in the following formula:

The guiding apparatuses of the Second and Third Internationals have become obstacles on the road of the emancipation of the proletariat. If a new war is bearing down on humanity with implacable force, the responsibility for that circumstance falls on the leadership of the Second and Third Internationals. I believe that the creation of a new International is inevitable and necessary, on the basis of the programme which is explained and developed in my books and articles as well as in the works of my ideological friends. At the same time the so-called Trotskyites are always and everywhere ready to sustain every practical step of the Second and Third Internationals against fascism and reaction in general, when it is a question of real acts of struggle and not of cheap parades, deceitful shows of unification, or in general, of all those things which throw dust in one’s eyes.

With bureaucratic charlatanism and ‘democratic’ verbiage we have nothing in common! For these ideas I fight entirely openly. My adversaries have the full right and the full possibility to submit me to the most severe criticism. Up to now they have made great use of this right. I have never complained on that score. The struggle goes on for the supreme ends of humanity. Only the ultimate advance of the historical process can resolve these implacable discords. I patiently await its Verdict. If, however, Brockway, together with Otto Bauer and the anonymous ‘good Frenchman’, wishes to anticipate the verdict of history, I can only wish them great successes. It is not the first time that such attempts have been made.

Messrs. Fenner Brockway and Otto Bauer have more than once judged Lenin, especially from 1914 to 1917, and also later, together with the Russian Mensheviks, as a sectarian, a splitter, a disorganizer and an auxiliary of counter-revolution. Such men, in alliance with ‘good Frenchmen’ and also ‘good’ Germans, in the middle of the 19th century, more than once judged and annihilated Marx and Engels. I am ready to submit to the same fate to which my great masters were very often subjected.

However, Brockway’s plan takes on a manifestly dishonest character at the point where he tries to replace a juridical inquiry into the criminal accusations and the trials, more exactly, into the greatest frame-ups in the world,[13] with a factional political intrigue to avoid the ‘prejudice’ of Stalin and his agents. Here the advanced workers will say: Stop! Brockway’s fears, whatever may be their source, will not hinder the truth from triumphing over the lie!

As to the candidates indicated by Brockway for his political intrigue, I can say the following: in the last years I wrote a dozen articles in which I attempted to explain in a friendly manner to Fenner Brockway himself and to his friends that their unprincipled politics, zig-zagging from right to left under the whip of the Stalintern, would inevitably destroy the Independent Labour Party. Now this prognosis, alas, is completely confirmed. I have known Otto Bauer for thirty years as a political invertebrate, who has always adapted himself to the class enemy: to the defunct Hapsburg monarchy, to the Austrian bourgeoisie, to Wilson, to the Entente,[14] and who, precisely because of the fact, has become chiefly responsible for the crushing of the Austrian proletariat. Again, in 1922 Bauer thought that the Soviet dictatorship arrested ‘progress’, which, in his opinion, then demanded the return of Russia to the road of capitalism. Now Bauer bows low before the Soviet bureaucracy, which is arresting progress toward socialism. The analysis of Otto Bauer’s rotten politics is given in dozens of my writings. Bauer himself has never tried to reply to them. I cannot say anything about Branting, who is recommended as a ‘lawyer’, although it is not a question of juridical, but of theoretical and political, problems. As for Norman Thomas he has never hidden his disagreements with me, and on my part I have no reason to attenuate their profundity. But Norman Thomas thinks that however profound these differences may be, and however acute the struggle of tendencies and fractions, certain methods are inadmissible, criminal, corrupt, menacing equally all parts of the proletariat. Without purging the workers’ ranks of terror, sabotage, espionage, etc.—if they exist—or of frame-ups, falsifications, despicable juridical assassinations—and they certainly exist!—the working class movement as a whole is menaced by gangrene. Here there is common ground between myself and Norman Thomas and all those who seriously concern themselves with the internal morale of the working-class movement. With Brockway such a common ground does not and cannot exist. As a political man, Brockway can judge Trotskyism as he likes; that is his right. But as Pritt Number Two he must be met with a merciless counter-thrust.

Written on 6th March, 1937 and published in the Information Bulletin of the British Committee for the Defence of Leon Trotsky, July 1937


Once More on Fenner Brockway

’The London Bureau of Revolutionary Socialist Parties" was invited, together with the Second and Third Internationals, to participate in the International Commission of Inquiry on the Moscow trials.[15] On May 21 Fenner Brockway, in the name of the London Bureau, rejected the invitation. The pertinent section of his reply reads verbatim as follows:

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

The London Bureau, it would seem, is vitally concerned in the success of the inquiry and if it refuses to give any assistance it is solely due to the fact that the investigation was initiated by the ‘Defence’ Committee. However, Mr. Brockway fails to specify just who should have initiated the inquiry. The new head of the GPU Yezhov?[16] Or the secretary of the Comintern, Dimitrov? Or the King’s Counsellor, Pritt? Or the secretary of the London Bureau, Fenner Brockway? Or, finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury? The most ‘impartial’ of the above-listed candidates, one should imagine, is Brockway himself. But, as is obvious from his letter of last February to the American Socialist, Devere Allen,[17] none other than Brockway himself not only refused to initiate the inquiry but did everything in his power to prevent others from taking the initiative, and, furthermore, adduced arguments involving not the interests of impartiality but those of the Moscow bureaucracy. Here is what Brockway wrote to Allen: The inquiry ‘ … will merely arouse prejudice in Russia and in Communist circles.’ Isn’t it astonishing? In a letter not intended for publication Brockway incautiously spoke up as a member of the ‘Committee for the Defence of—Stalin, Dimitrov, Vyshinsky and Yagoda.[18] I pointed this out in the press at the time. Not a word came in reply from Brockway. Several months elapsed. In his letter of May 28, Brockway again came out against the inquiry, but this time with a completely different set of arguments. But in essence he still remains a member of the undercover ‘Committee for the Defence’ of the falsifiers against their victims.

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

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

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

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

To reveal more vividly the unworthy role played by this Bureau we shall dwell on another, and more recent case. The gangsters of the GPU in Spain murdered Andres Nin, the leader of the POUM.[19] Nin was an opponent of mine. Fenner Brockway, on the contrary, considered Nin a co-thinker. If the London Bureau and other ‘impartial’ Pontius Pilates had joined in an investigation of the Moscow frame-ups immediately after the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial, the GPU might not have dared to put in circulation the palpably false charge that the leaders of the POUM are collaborating with General Franco. But this was not done. The ‘impartial’ ones shielded the GPU. As a result, Nin has been murdered, together with scores and hundreds of others. The POUM has been crushed. What has been let slip cannot be retrieved. Do Messrs. Brockway think that the time has now come for an international investigation of the crimes of the GPU in Spain—of the frame-ups, pillages and murders? Or are they waiting for the sterilized priests of impartiality to initiate the investigation? Let Brockway supply me with their addresses and telephone numbers. I will immediately get in touch with them. But if, as I suspect, they do not exist in nature, let the London Bureau take upon itself the initiative of calling the inquiry. Let the Bureau, emulating the example of the American Committee, turn to all the existing labour Internationals and to outstanding individuals in science, literature and art who are known for their honesty and integrity. If someone were to say that Fenner Brockway would make a ‘disastrous mistake’ by initiating the inquiry instead of allowing matters to rest with Stalin or Negrin,[20] every rational and honest person would call such an `accuser’ a brazen hypocrite.

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

We, the ‘amoral’ Bolsheviks, proceed differently. We openly criticized Nin’s policies when he was alive. We did not alter our evaluation of him after he died. But inasmuch as we never for a moment doubted the integrity of this proletarian fighter, we stand ready to do everything in our power to rehabilitate his name and mercilessly brand his executioners. We declare in advance to Fenner Brockway and all other specialists in morals that not a single one of our friends and co-thinkers will attempt to use the investigation of Nin’s murder as a pretext to settle scores with Nin’s policies. To wage a struggle against opportunism and centrism we have no need to hide behind a ‘commission’, created for a totally different purpose. We leave such methods to the Tartuffes[21] of idealistic morality. We, gross materialists, prefer to call a ‘nettle but a nettle and the faults of fools but folly.’ We deal blows to our adversaries openly and in our own names.

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

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

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

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


At first sight the conduct of the French and English sections of the Communist International appeared to be diametrically opposite.[22] In contradistinction to the Germans, they were compelled to attack their own government. But this sudden defeatism was not internationalism, but a distorted variety of patriotism—these gentlemen consider their fatherland to be the Kremlin, on which their welfare depends. Many of the French Stalinists behaved with unquestionable courage under persecution. But the political content of this courage was besmirched by their ‘embellishment of the rapacious policy of the enemy camp. What must the French workers think of it?

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

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


1.The Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie.

2. This was the name adopted by the main group of Trotsky’s supporters in Britain in this period. At this point. in mid- 1936, their period of entry in the PO was just coming to an end. The same name was then taken over by one of the main groups to emerge, under the leadership of C.L.R. James. (See also notes.)

3. In July 1934 Trotsky proposed that the members of the French Communist League join the SFIO—the tactical change known as the ‘French turn’. At that time the SFIO (cc note) was about five times larger than the CP, with much greater trade union influence. In November, 1933, the right-wing ‘Neos’ had split away. The left-wing groupings expelled by them were invited to return, factions were permitted to operate and to produce their own papers. Centrist and leftward-moving currents were rapidly developing, especially among the youth. Trotsky saw, not only the possibilities for the building of a revolutionary tendency, but also the danger of not intervening, as the Stalinists: dropped their ultra-left ‘social-fascist’ line, and began moving towards making a pact with the social-democratic leaders. Later in 1934, Trotsky made similar proposals in relation to the Spanish Socialist Party and the Socialist Party of Belgium. He also supported the merger of the Communist League of America with A.J. Muste’s American Workers’ Party. In 1936, the fused organization entered the American Socialist Party.

The tactic of ‘entry’ into social-democratic parties aimed at enabling the groups adhering to the ICL to make important experiences within the developing struggles of the working class in the fight for the Fourth International. It was fiercely opposed within the ICL, especially by the followers of Oehler in the American group. Some of these opponents later found their way into the centrist parties of the IAG. But when the opportunities arose in each case of ‘entry’ to break from the social democracy and form open revolutionary parties as sections of the Fourth International, there was opposition to the break, in some cases from those who had opposed ‘entry’.

4. At the ILP National Conference in Keighley, Easter 1936, the bloc of Brockway and Maxton secured a majority for prohibiting the existence of organized factions in the party. Its purpose was to prevent the Marxist Group in the ILP from circulating Trotskyist material through their journal, The Marxist Bulletin

5. Ex-members of the CPGB expelled in August 1932 as supporters of Trotsky, who formed the majority of the Communist League, opposing the entry into the ILP advised by the International Secretariat in 1934. They remained as an ‘open party’, continuing to produce Red Flag (see also notes 165, 109 and 87). During the course of 1935 they re-joined the Labour Party and in 1936 declined to accept the advice of the Geneva pre-conference’ of the Fourth International that they should unite with others in the Labour Party claiming allegiance to Trotskyism. They were considered to be acting in an opportunist manner.

6. CP front organizations, which appear never to have achieved mass support.

7. Peter J. Schmidt, who in the 1920s had been a leader of the Dutch social democrats and associated with the Stalinists, in 1932 split away and formed the Dutch Independent Socialist Party (see note). He acted as chairman of the Paris conference of the ‘London Bureau’ in August 1933 (see note). John Paton was at that time secretary of the ILP and also of the Paris conference. They visited Trotsky, who was in France at the time, while the Paris conference was taking place, discussing with him the building of a new International. For Trotsky the role of the Comintern in Hitler’s rise to power earlier that year had proved the necessity for this.

8. W is possibly Robertson, who had visited Trotsky in December, 1935. The identity of his companion W is more obscure.

9. 172

10. 173 The call for a government of the main working class parties, at that time the SFIO led by Leon Blum (see note), and the PCF, whose leaders included Marcel Cachin (1869-1958)

11. Hjalmar Branting (1860-1925) was the right wing leader of Swedish social democracy, its first MP and head of a number of minority social democratic administrations in the early 1920s. It seems unlikely that even Brockway was unaware that he had been dead for ten years, but it is not clear who else he could be referring to.

12. Norman Thomas (1883-1968) was leader of the Socialist Party of the United States and eight times candidate for President. Considered a ‘left’ socialist in the early 1930s, he later became a defender of US foreign policy.

13. The assassination in December 1934 of Sergei Kirov, boss of the Leningrad party machine, which was believed to have been engineered by the GPU itself, was the signal for a succession of murderous attacks on former leaders of the Russian Bolshevik Party, including Lenin’s closest collaborators. This culminated in a series of show trials held in Moscow at which the leaders of all sections of the Russian Bolsheviks, including those who had at one time been the strongest supporters of Stalin himself, were forced to confess to crimes both fantastic and inconceivable. The first of these was held in August 1936 and the chief defendants were Zinoviev, Kamenev and Smirnov. A second trial took place in January 1937, where the defendants included Radek and Pyatakov, and a third began at the end of February 1938, when Bukharin, Rykov, Rakovsky and Yagoda appeared in the dock. In nearly all cases the main defendants were executed, though it seems that Radek may have survived in prison for a number of years. (For more details see The Moscow Trials—An Anthology, New Park Publications, 1967 and M. Shachtinan, Behind the Moscow Trials, New Park Publications 1971.)

14. i.e. Woodrow Wilson’ President of the USA, and those European powers led by Britain and France with whom he had been in alliance in the First World War.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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