Leon Trotsky On
Excerpts from his writings


The Pprinciples Involved

The last war, which was by and large a war for colonies, was at the same time a war conducted with the help of colonies. The colonial populations were drawn into the European war on an unprecedented scale. Indians, Negroes, Arabs and Madagascans fought on the territories of Europe—for the sake of what? For the sake of their right to continue to remain the slaves of Britain and France. Never before has the infamy of capitalist rule in the colonies been delineated so clearly; never before has the problem of colonial slavery been posed so sharply as it is today.

A number of open insurrections and the revolutionary ferment in all the colonies have hence arisen. In Europe itself, Ireland keeps signalling through sanguinary street battles that she still remains and still feels herself to be an enslaved country. In Madagascar, Annam [1] and elsewhere the troops of the bourgeois republic have more than once quelled the uprisings of colonial slaves during the war. In India the revolutionary movement has not subsided for a single day and has recently led to the greatest labour strikes in Asia, which the British government has met by ordering its armoured cars into action in Bombay.

The colonial question has been thus posed in its fullest measure not only on the maps at the diplomatic congress in Paris but also within the colonies themselves. At best, Wilson’s programme has as its task: to effect a change of labels with regard to colonial slavery. The emancipation of the colonies is conceivable only in conjunction with the emancipation of the working class in the metropolises. The workers and peasants not only of Annam, Algiers and Bengal, but also of Persia and Armenia,[2] will gain their opportunity of independent existence only in that hour when the workers of Britain and France, having overthrown Lloyd George and Clemenceau,[3] will have taken state power into their own hands. Even now the struggle in the more developed colonies, while taking place only under the banner of national liberation, immediately assumes a more or less clearly defined social character. If capitalist Europe has violently dragged the most backward sections of the world into the whirlpool of capitalist relations, then socialist Europe will come to the aid of liberated colonies with her technology, her organization and her ideological influence in order to facilitate their transition to a planned and organized socialist economy.

From the ‘Manifesto of the Communist International to the Workers of the World’, adopted by the First World Congress on 6th March, 1919

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The toilers of the colonial and semi-colonial countries have awakened. In the boundless areas of India, Egypt, Persia, over which the gigantic octopus of British imperialism sprawls—in this uncharted human ocean vast internal forces are constantly at work, upheaving huge waves that cause tremors in the City’s stocks and hearts.

In the movements of colonial peoples, the social element blends in diverse forms with the national element, but both of them are directed against imperialism. The road from the first stumbling baby steps to the mature forms of struggle is being traversed by the colonies and backward countries in general through a forced march, under the pressure of modem imperialism and under the leadership of the revolutionary proletariat.

The fruitful rapprochement of the Mohammedan and non-Mohammedan peoples who are kept shackled under British and foreign domination, the purging of the movement internally by doing away with the influence of the clergy and of chauvinist reaction, the simultaneous struggle against foreign oppressors and their native confederates—the feudal lords, the priests and the usurers—all this is transforming the growing army of the colonial insurrection into a great historical force, into a mighty reserve for the world proletariat.

The pariahs are rising. Their awakened minds avidly gravitate to Soviet Russia, to the barricade battles in the streets of German cities, to the growing strike struggles in Great Britain, to the Communist International.

The socialist who aids directly or indirectly in perpetuating the privileged position of one nation at the expense of another, who accommodates himself to colonial slavery, who draws a line of distinction between races and colours in the matter of human rights, who helps the bourgeoisie of the metropolis to maintain its rule over the colonies instead of aiding the armed uprising of the colonies; the British Socialist who fails to support by all possible means the uprisings in Ireland, Egypt and India against the London plutocracy—such a socialist deserves to be branded with infamy, if not with a bullet, but in no case merits either a mandate or the confidence of the proletariat.

From the ‘Manifesto of the Second Congress of the Communist International’, adopted 7th August, 1920

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“The Allied powers do not intend to recede from the great principle of the self-determination of small nations. They will only repudiate this principle when they are faced with the fact that some of the temporarily independent nations prove themselves to be a peril to universal peace by their incapacity to maintain order, by their bellicose and aggressive acts, and even by constant, childish and unnecessary insistence on their own dignity. The Great Powers will not tolerate such nations, as they are determined to preserve universal peace.”

With these energetic words the British General Walker impressed on the Georgian Mensheviks’ minds the conception of the relativity of the national right to self-determination.[4] Politically, Henderson stood, and still stands, behind his general. But ‘on principle’, he is willing to turn national self-determination into an absolute principle, and to direct it against the Soviet Republic.

National self-determination is the fundamental democratic formula for oppressed nations. Wherever class oppression is complicated by national subjection, democratic demands take first of all the form of demands for national equality of rights—for autonomy or for independence.

The programme of bourgeois democracy included the right of national self-determination, but this democratic principle came into violent and open conflict with the interests of the bourgeoisie of the most powerful nations. The republican form of government seemed to be quite compatible with the domination of the Stock Exchange. Capitalism with the greatest ease established a dictatorship over the machinery of universal suffrage. However, the right of national selfdetermination has assumed and is still assuming in many instances the character of an acute and immediate peril of the dismemberment of the bourgeois states, or of the secession of their colonies.

The most powerful democracies have been transferred into imperialist autocracies. The financial oligarchy, the City, reigns supreme over the disfranchised human ocean of Asia and Africa through the medium of the ‘democratically’ enslaved people of the home country.

From Chapter 9 of Between Red and White (1922)

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One more question must be cleared up: on what does the Second International base its demand that we, the Soviet Federation, the Communist Party, should evacuate Georgia! Even if we were to admit that Georgia has been forcibly occupied, and that this fact is the expression of our Soviet imperialism, what right has Henderson, a member of the Second International, a former British Cabinet Minister, to demand that the proletariat organized in a State, that the Third International, that revolutionary Communism, should disarm Soviet Georgia ‘merely for the sake of his pious eyes’? When Mr. Churchill makes these demands, he makes as well a significant gesture in the direction of the long barrels of the naval guns and the barbed wire of the blockade. Upon what does Henderson rely? Is it the Holy Scriptures, or a party programme, or his own record? But the Holy Scriptures are nothing but a naive myth, Mr. Henderson’s programme is a myth, if not a naive one, and as to his record, it is a severe indictment against him.

Not so long ago Henderson was a Minister in one of the democracies, viz., of his own -the British democraracy. Why then has he not insisted that his own democracy, for the defence of which he was ready to make all sacrifices, including the acceptance of a Ministerial portfolio from the Liberal-Conservative Lloyd George, should begin to put into practice not our principles (heaven forbid) but his own—Mr. Henderson’s? Why has he not demanded the evacuation of India and Egypt? Why did he not, at the right time, support the demands of the Irish for their complete liberation from the yoke of Great Britain?

We are aware that Henderson, as well as MacDonald, does protest, on certain appointed days, by means of mournful resolutions against the excesses of British imperialism. But these feeble and irresolute protests have never imperilled, and do not now imperil, the interests of British capitalism, and have never led, nor are they leading, to courageous and decisive action. They are only intended to salve the conscience of the ‘socialist’ citizens of the ruling nation, and to serve as an outlet for the dissatisfaction of the British workers. They will not help to break the chains of the colonial slaves. The Hendersons regard British domination over the colonies not as political questions, but as a fact in natural history. They have never declared that Hindus, Egyptians, and other enslaved peoples have the right (nay, that it is their duty) to rise in armed revolt against British domination. Neither have they undertaken as ‘socialists’ to render armed assistance to the colonies in their struggle for liberation. On this point there can certainly be no doubt whatever, that this is a question of the most elementary, ultra-democratic duty, and that for two reasons: first because the colonial slaves certainly constitute an overwhelming majority, as compared with the infinitesimal ruling British minority; secondly, because this same minority, and especially its official socialist section, recognizes the principles of democracy as the guiding principle of its existence. There is India. Why does not Henderson organize a rising in favour of the evacuation of British troops from In ia? For there can be no more evident, monstrous and shameless violation of the laws of democracy than the domination of all the consolidated forces of British capitalism over the prostrate body of this unhappy and enslaved country’ It seems to us that Henderson, MacDonald and the rest of them ought unceasingly to beat the tocsin, demand, appeal, denounce and preach revolution to the Indians and to all British workers against this inhuman trampling upon all the principles of democracy. But they remain silent, or worse still, they from time to time, with obvious boredom, sign a reasonable resolution, which is as stale and meaningless as an English sermon, and has for its aim to prove that, while supporting colonial domination, they would like its roses without the thorns, and that, in any case, they are not willing to allow these thorns to prick the fingers of loyal British socialists. For ‘democratic and patriotic’ considerations, Henderson ensconced himself with the greatest equanimity in a Ministerial armchair, and it did not appear to strike him that his armchair was resting on the most anti-democratic pedestal in the world—the domination of a numerically insignificant capitalistic clique, through the medium of some tens of millions of Britishers, over several hundred millions of coloured Asiatic and African slaves. And, what is worse still, on the plea of defending this monstrous domination concealed under the cloak of democratic forms, Henderson allied himself with the unashamed military and police dictatorship of Russian Tsarism. In so far as you were a member of the British War Cabinet, Mr. Henderson, you were a Minister of Russian Tsarism. Do not forget that.

Henderson, of course, would not even dream of asking the Tsar, his patron and ally, to remove the Russian forces from Georgia, or from the other territories which he had enslaved. At that time he would have described such a demand as rendering a service to German militarism. He looked upon every revolutionary movement in Georgia directed against the Tsar in the same light as upon a rising in Ireland, viz., as the result of German intrigue and German gold.

In the end one’s brain reels from all these monstrous crying contradictions and inconsistencies! Nevertheless, they are in the order of things, for British domination, or rather the domination of its ruling upper ten thousand over one quarter of the human race, is looked upon by the Hendersons not as a question of politics, but as a fact in natural history. These democrats, with all their Fabian, emasculated and feeble socialism have always been and always will be the slaves of public opinion. They are thoroughly imbued with the anti-democratic exploiter, planter, and parasite views on races which are distinguished by the colour of their skins, by the fact that they do not read Shakespeare, or wear stiff collars.

Thus, although having Tsarist Georgia, Ireland, Egypt and India on their consciences, they dare to demand from us their opponents, and not their allies, the evacuation of Soviet Georgia. But, strange as it may seem, this ridiculous and thoroughly inconsistent demand is an unconscious expression of the respect of petty-bourgeois democracy for the proletarian dictatorship. Unconsciously, or half conscious1y, Henderson and Co. are saying: ‘Of course one cannot expect bourgeois democracy (whose Ministers we become when invited), to take the democratic principle of self-determination seriously. One cannot expect the socialists of this democracy, or the respectable citizens of the ruling nation who conceal our slave ownership with democratic fictions, to aid the colonial slaves against their slave owners. But you, the revolution, personified in the proletarian state, are obliged to do what we, owing to our cowardice, mendacity and hypocrisy, are unable to do.’

In other words, while formally placing democracy above all else, they recognize, willingly or unwillingly, that one can put demands to the proletarian state which would seem ridiculous and even silly, if they were put to bourgeois democracy, whose ministers or loyal representatives they are.

However, they express this unwilling respect for the proletarian dictatorship, which they reject, in a way which is in keeping with their political vagaries. They demand that the dictatorship should maintain and defend its power, not by its own methods, but by the methods which (in words, but not in deeds) they consider obligatory for democracy, but which they never apply themselves. We have already dealt with this in the first manifesto of the Communist International. Our enemies demand that we defend our lives in no other way than according to the rules of French duelling—that is to say, by the rules laid down by our enemies—but they do not consider such rules binding for themselves in their struggle against us.

From Chapter 10 of Between Red and White (1922)

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Comrades, the premise of this theory [of socialism in one country]90 is the unevenness of imperialist development. Stalin accuses me of not recognizing or insufficiently recognizing this law. Nonsense!. The law of the unevenness of development is not a law of imperialism but it is a law of all human history. In its first phase capitalist development abruptly heightened the disparity between the economic and cultural level of development of different nations; imperialist development, i.e. the highest phase of capitalism, has not increased this disparity of levels but on the contrary has considerably facilitated their levelling out. This levelling Out can never in any way be complete. The difference in tempos of development will disrupt this levelling out over and over again, thereby rendering impossible the stabilization of imperialism at any given level. Lenin attributed this unevenness by and large to two factors: first to the tempo; and secondly to the level of economic and cultural development of the different countries. As far as the tempo is concerned imperialism has brought unevenness to an extremely high point; as regards the level of different capitalist countries the very difference in tempo has brought about certain levelling tendencies. Whoever does not understand this does not understand the very root of the question. Take Britain and India. Capitalist development is in certain parts of India proceeding faster than did the capitalist development of Britain at its very start. Yet the difference, the economic gap between Britain and India—is this today greater or less than fifty years ago? it is less. Take Canada, South America, South Africa on the one hand and Britain on the other. The development of Canada and South America has gone ahead at a furious rate over the recent period. The ‘development’ of Britain consists of a slump or even a decline. Thus the tempo is more uneven than ever before in history. But the levels of development of these countries have today drawn closer together than thirty or fifty years ago. What conclusions flow from this? Very important ones. just the very fact that the tempo of development in some backward countries has of late become feverish while on the other hand in some old capitalist countries development has slowed down and even gone into reverse, and this very fact totally excludes the possibility of realizing Kautsky’s hypothesis of systematically organized super-imperialism …[5]

From a speech to the 7th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, 9th December, 1926

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The South African possessions of Great Britain form a dominion only from the point of view of the white minority. From the point of the black majority, South Africa is a slave colony.

No social upheaval (in the first instance, an agrarian revolution) is thinkable with the retention of British imperialism in the South African dominion. The overthrow of British imperialism in South Africa is just as indispensable for the triumph of socialism in South Africa as it is for Great Britain itself.

If, as it is possible to assume, the revolution will start first in Great Britain, the less support the British bourgeoisie will find in the colonies and dominions, including so important a possession as South Africa, the quicker will be their defeat at home. The struggle for the expulsion of British imperialism, its tools and agents thus enters as an indispensable part of the programme of the South African proletarian party.

The overthrow of the hegemony of British imperialism in South Africa can come about as the result of a military defeat of Great Britain and the disintegration of the empire. In this case, the South African whites could still, for a certain period—hardly a considerable one -retain their domination over the blacks.

Another possibility, which in practice could be connected with the first, is a revolution in Great Britain and her possessions. Three quarters of the population of South Africa (almost six million of the almost eight million total) is composed of non-Europeans. A victorious revolution is unthinkable without the awakening of the native masses. In its turn, that will give them what they are so lacking today—confidence in their strength, a heightened personal consciousness, a cultural growth.

Under these conditions, the South African republic will emerge first of all as a ‘black’ republic; this does not exclude, of course, either full equality for the whites or brotherly relations between the two races—depending mainly on the conduct of the whites.

The revolutionary party must put before every white worker the following alternative: either with British imperialism and with the white bourgeoisie of South Africa or with the black workers and peasants against the white feudalists and slave owners and their agents in the ranks of the working class.

The overthrow of the British domination over the black population of South Africa will not, of course, mean an economic and cultural break with the previous mother country, if the latter will liberate itself from the oppression of its imperialist plunderers. A Soviet Britain will be able to exercise a powerful economic and cultural influence on South Africa through the medium of those whites who in deeds, in actual struggle, have bound up their fate with that of the present colonial slaves. This influence will be based not on domination but on proletarian mutual co-operation.

But more important in all probability will be the influence that a Soviet South Africa will exercise over the whole of the black continent. To help the Negroes catch up with the white race in order to ascend hand in hand with them to new cultural heights, this will be one of the grand and noble tasks of a victorious socialism.

From ‘Remarks on the theses of the Communist League of South Africa’, Byulleten Oppozitsii, July 1935

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Ireland, 1916


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The former prominent colonial bureaucrat of Great Britain, Sir Roger Casement, by conviction a revolutionary Irish nationalist, the go-between for Germany and the Irish uprising, on being sentenced to death declared, ‘I prefer to sit on the bench of the accused than in the seat of the accuser,’ before the reading of the sentence, which ran according to the old formula that Casement should be ‘hung by the neck until dead’, at which God was invited to have mercy on his soul.

Should the sentence be carried out? This question must have given Asquith and Lloyd George many troubled hours. To execute Casement would make it even more difficult for the opportunist, nationalist and purely parliamentary Irish party, led by Redmond, to ratify a new compromise with the government of the UK on the blood of the insurrectionaries. To pardon Casement, after having carried out so many executions, would mean an open ‘display of indulgence to a high-ranking traitor’. This is the ‘demagogic tune of the British social-imperialists of the Hyndman type—downright blood-thirsty hooligans. But however the personal fate of Casement is resolved the sentence on him will bring to a conclusion the dramatic episode of the Irish uprising.[6]

In so far as the affair concerned the purely military operations of the insurrectionaries, the government, as we know, turned out comparatively easily to be master of the situation. The general national movement, however it was expressed in the heads of the nationalist dreamers, did not materialize at all. The Irish countryside did not rise up. The Irish bourgeoisie, as also the upper, more influential layer of the Irish intelligentsia, remained on the sidelines. The urban workers fought and died, together with revolutionary enthusiasts from the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. The historical basis for the national revolution had disappeared even in backward Ireland. Inasmuch as the Irish movements in the last century had assumed a popular character, they had invariably fed on the social hostility of the deprived and exhausted pauper-farmer towards the omnipotent English landlord.

But if for the latter Ireland was only an object of agrarian plunder and exploitation, for British imperialism it was a necessary guarantee of their dominion over the seas. In a pamphlet written on the eve of the war,[7] Casement, speculating about Germany, proves that the independence of Ireland means the ‘freedom of the seas’ and the death blow to the naval domination of Britain. This is true in so far as an ‘independent’ Ireland could exist only as an outpost of an imperialist state hostile to Britain and as its military naval base against British supremacy over the sea routes. It was Gladstone who first expounded with full clarity the military imperialist consideration of Great Britain over the interests of the Anglo-lrish landlords and laid the basis for the wide agrarian legislation by which the state transferred to the Irish farmers the landlords’ land, very generously compensating the latter, of course. Anyway, after the agrarian reforms of 1881-1903, the farmers turned into conservative small property owners, whose gaze the green banner of national independence is no longer able to tear away from their plots of land.

The redundant Irish intelligentsia flowed in their thousands into the towns of Great Britain as lawyers, journalists, commercial employees, etc. In this way, for the majority of them, the ‘national question’ got lost. On the other hand, the independent Irish commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, in so far as it has formed over the past decades, immediately adopted an antagonistic position towards the young Irish proletariat, giving up the national revolutionary struggle and entering the camp of imperialism. The young Irish working class, taking shape in an atmosphere saturated with the heroic recollections of national rebellions, and clashing with the egoistic, narrow-minded, imperial arrogance of British trade unionism, naturally swing between nationalism and syndicalism, ever ready to unite these two concepts in their revolutionary consciousness. It attracts the young intelligentsia and individual nationalist enthusiasts, who, in their turn, supply the movement with a preponderance of the green flag over the red. In this way, the ‘national revolution’) even in Ireland, in practice has become an uprising of workers, and the obviously isolated position of Casement in the movement only serves to emphasize this fact still deeper.

In a pathetic and shameful article, Plekhanov[8] recently pointed to the ‘harmful’ character of the Irish uprising for the cause of freedom, rejoicing that the Irish nation ‘to their credit’ had realized this and not supported the revolutionary madmen. Only complete patriotic softening of all the joints could lead anyone to interpret the situation as if the Irish peasants had declined to participate in the revolution from the standpoint of the international situation, thus saving the ‘honour’ of Ireland. In actual fact they were led only by the obtuse egoism of the farmer and complete indifference to everything beyond the bounds of their plots of land. It was precisely because of this and only this that they supplied the London government with such a quick victory over the heroic defenders of the Dublin barricades. The undoubted personal courage, representing the hopes and methods of the past, is over. But the historical role of the Irish proletariat is only beginning. Already into this uprising—under an archaic banner—it has injected its class resentment against militarism and imperialism. That resentment from now on will not subside. On the contrary, it will find an echo throughout Great Britain. Scottish soldiers smashed the Dublin barricades. But in Scotland itself coal-miners are rallying round the red flag, raised by Maclean and his friends. Those very workers, who at the moment the Hendersons are trying to chain to the bloody chariot of imperialism, will revenge themselves against the hangman Lloyd George.

Nashe Slovo, 4th July, 1916

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The Irish rising has been crushed. Those whom it was thought necessary to shoot first have been shot. The rest wait for their personal fate to be decided after that of the rising itself. The triumph of British rule is so complete that Prime Minister Asquith considered it possible to declare from his parliamentary platform the government’s intention to show ‘reasonable clemency’ towards the imprisoned Irish revolutionaries. In so doing Asquith referred to the good fruits of the clemency shown by General Botha to those who took part in the South African rising. Asquith refrained from mentioning General Botha himself. Twelve years before the present war he stood at the head of the Boers who shed their blood in a struggle against British imperialism; but at the beginning of the war he successfully put down a rising of his own fellow-countrymen. Thus Asquith remains wholly within the traditions of British imperialism when he crowns the work of the ‘law and order’ specialists in Dublin and other places with a proclamation of the principles of ‘expedient’ humanity—humanity, that is, within the limits of what is …. expedient. So far, then, everything is clear, and there can be no doubt in the minds of our readers about Asquith’s statement, which goes beyond what it is permissible to express in the French Republic in 1916.

But the matter does not end there. We have an uprising crushed -buildings razed, human corpses, men and women in chains. We have triumphant authority making a gesture of ‘philanthropy’. But in this picture which history has set in the frame of the world war, on this ‘stage within a stage’, one other figure is missing: the French social-patriot, the standard bearer of ‘liberating’ war and the principles of national ‘freedom’, commenting on the official ‘humanity’ of the Dublin government.

To fill in this gap, and add the finishing touch to our picture of the official governmental, patriotic aspect of our epoch, M. Renaudel published an article on ‘Clemency’ in the pages of his paper Humanit_, which until now has not carried a single word about the Irish rising.[9]

Now of course he, Renaudel, knows that there were facts in the past which clouded relations between Ireland and Britain. He allows that these facts could not but leave bitterness to this day in the most irreconcilable Irish hearts. But the Irish chose the most fatal hour for their action. He, Renaudel. had not doubted for a moment that the British government would do everything necessary to remain master of the situation, and he was not mistaken. But, therefore, ‘Britain who is fighting with her allies for the rights of nations, can and must show magnanimity.’ And that is why being simultaneously a friend of Britain and of Ireland, of Britain which crushed down and of Ireland which was crushed, he, Renaudel, could only welcome Asquith’s magnanimous gesture.

One might think that this was quite enough. One might think it physically impossible for social-patriotic cynicism to go any further than masquerading like this as the advocate of clemency to a set of frenzied butchers. But no, Renaudel has also to introduce a national French factor in order to explain and rationalize his sage statesmanlike pleading on behalf of the vanquished and justify it to official France. ‘Of course,’ he writes, ‘in a land which weeps over Corneille’s verses and the noble farewell to Cinna by Auguste[1]0—in such a land it causes no surprise if we counsel that clemency be shown.’

Thus the spiritual heirs and political descendants of Thiers and General Gallifet[11]1 are reassured. For didn’t they, who wept on reading Racine,[12]12 show clemency to the fighters of the Paris Commune? Here is the real crowning of the spiritual reconciliation between Gallifet’s descendants and the offspring of the movement in whose history the Commune is indelibly inscribed.

Nashe Slovo, 11th May, 1916


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There is yet another nation in the East which deserves special mention today in connection with the holiday of international brotherhood. This is Afghanistan.[13] Dramatic events are taking place there and the hand of British imperialism is embroiled in these events. Afghanistan is a backward country. Afghanistan is making its first step to Europeanize itself and guarantee its independence on a more cultured basis. The progressive nationalist elements of Afghanistan are in power and so British diplomacy mobilizes and arms everything which is in any way reactionary both in that country and along its borders with India and throws all this against the progressive elements in Kabul. Starting from the decrees by which not only the bourgeois but also the social-democratic authorities in Germany banned May Day demonstrations, passing through events m China and Afghanistan, we can see everywhere the parties of the Second International behind the work of suppression and oppression. For, you know, the onslaught against Kabul organized with British resources, takes place under the government of the pacifist MacDonald.

From May Day in the West and the East (Speech at the commemorative plenum of the Moscow Soviet, April 15, 1924)

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That is why, comrades, I think that the danger of a national-democratic degeneration which of course exists and which will seize and carry off some people for it cannot be otherwise, that this danger is greatly reduced by the very fact of the existence of the Soviet Union and of the Third International. There is every ground for hoping that the basic nucleus which will emerge from the Communist University for Toilers of the East will occupy its due place as a class leaven, a Marxist leaven and a Leninist leaven to the proletarian movement in the lands of the East. The demand for you, comrades, appears gigantic and it manifests itself, as I have already said, not gradually but all at once, also in its own way ‘catastrophically’. Read over one of Lenin’s last articles, ‘Better less but better’: seemingly it is devoted to a specific organizational question but it at the same time embraces the perspectives for the development of the countries of the East in connection with the development of Europe. What is the main idea behind the article? The fundamental idea is that the development of the revolution in the West may be held up. How can it be held up? By MacDonaldisrn, for the most conservative force in Europe is in fact MacDonaldism. We can see how Turkey abolished the Caliphate[14] and MacDonald resurrects it. Is this not a striking example which sharply contrasts in deed the counter-revolutionary Menshevism of the West to the progressive national-bourgeois democracy of the East?

Taking place at present in Afghanistan are truly dramatic events: MacDonald’s Britain is toppling the left national-bourgeois wing which is striving to Europeanize independent Afghanistan and is attempting there to restore to power the darkest and most reactionary elements imbued with the worst prejudices of pan-Islamism, the Caliphate and so forth. If you weigh up these two forces in their living conflict, it will at once become clear why the East will more and more gravitate towards us, the Soviet Union and the Third International.

We can see how Europe, which through its past development preserved the monstrous conservatism of the bosses of the working class, is more and more undergoing economic disintegration. There is no way out for her. And this finds an expression in particular in the fact that America does not give her loans, rightly not trusting her economic viability. On the other hand we can see too that the same America and the same Britain are compelled to finance the economic development of the colonial countries thereby driving them along the path of revolution at a frantic rate. And if Europe is to be kept back amid the present state of putrefaction of the numbskulled, parochial, aristocratic, privileged MacDonaldism of the labour bosses then the centre of gravity of the revolutionary movement is being transferred wholly and entirely to the East. And then it will emerge that although a number of decades of Britain’s capitalist development was necessary to act as a revolutionizing factor to raise up our old Russia and our old East on to their feet then it will now be necessary for the revolution in the East to come back to Britain to Smash through or, if necessary smash up some thick skulls and give an impulse to the revolution of the European proletariat [applause]. This is one of the historical possibilities. it must be kept in one’s mind’s eye. From Perspectives and tasks in the East (Speech on the third anniversary of the Communist University for the Toilers of the East, 21st April, 1924)


* * *

Revolutionary terror has shifted far to the cast—to the regions of the Punjab and Bengal.[15] There the slow political awakening of the 300 million strong nation creates a favourable atmosphere for it. There too the state regime seems even more absolute in its despotism over society, even more ‘accidental’ and alien; for the military and police apparatus of East India was imported from Britain together with printed cotton and office ledgers. And so the Indian intelligentsia, becoming acquainted with the ideas of Locke, Bentham and Mill at the school bench, and in its ideological evolution overtaking the political development of its country, is predisposed to seek the forces it still lacks in the bottom of alchemic retorts.

From ‘The Crisis of Terrorism and its Party’, Pravda (Vienna) No. 3., 27th March, 1909

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Thus his assertion[16] that the proletariat remains isolated in Britain whereas in Russia it is leading the peasant masses behind it, is a generalization naked in point of form, one-sided, and therefore false. The British proletariat is far from being isolated, for after all Britain is a world state. British industry and the position of British capitalism depend wholly upon the colonies and, in consequence, the struggle of the British proletariat likewise depends on the struggle of the colonial popular masses. The tasks which the British proletariat sets itself in its struggle against British capitalism must likewise take their orientation in harmony with the interests and moods of the Indian peasantry. British proletarians cannot attain their final victory until the peoples of India rise and until the British proletariat provides this uprising with a goal and a programme; and in India victory is out of the question without the aid and the leadership of the British proletariat. Here you have the revolutionary collaboration between the proletariat and the peasantry within the confines of the British Empire.

From ‘On the policy of the KAPD, speech to the Executive Committee of the Communist International, 24th November, 1920

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Its Tasks and Dangers

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India is the classic colonial country as Britain is the classic metropolis. All the viciousness of the ruling classes, every form of oppression that capitalism has applied against the backward peoples of the East is most completely and frightfully summed up in the history of the gigantic colony on which the British imperialists have settled themselves like leeches to drink its blood for the past century and a half. The British bourgeoisie has diligently fostered every remnant of barbarism, every institution of the Middle Ages which could be of service in the oppression of man by man. It forced its feudal agents to adapt themselves to colonial capitalist exploitation to become its links, its organs, its convoys to the masses. The British imperialists boast of their railroads, their canals and industrial enterprises in India in which they have invested close to four billion gold dollars. Apologists for imperialism triumphantly compare present day India with what it was prior to colonial occupation. But who can doubt for a moment that a gifted nation of 320,000,000 people would develop immeasurably quicker and more successfully were it freed from the burden of systematic and organized plunder? It is enough to recall the four billion gold dollars which represent the British investment in India to imagine what Britain extracts from India in the course of only some five or six years.

Allowing India carefully weighed doses of technique and culture, exactly enough to facilitate the exploitation of the riches of the country, the Shylock of the Thames could not however prevent the ideas of economic and national independence and freedom from penetrating more and more widely into the masses.

Just as in the older bourgeois countries, the various racial stocks that exist in India can only be fused into a nation by means of a binding political revolution. But in contradistinction to the older countries, this revolution in India is a colonial revolution directed against foreign oppressors. Besides this, it is the revolution of a historically belated nation in which the relations of feudal serfdom, caste divisions and even slavery exist alongside of the class antagonisms of the bourgeoisie and proletariat which have grown greatly in the last period.

The colonial character of the Indian revolution against one of the most powerful oppressors masks to a certain extent the internal social antagonisms of the country, particularly to the eyes of those to whom such masking is advantageous. In reality the necessity of throwing off the system of imperialist oppression ‘ with all its roots intertwined with the old Indian exploitation, demands the greatest revolutionary effort on the part of the Indian masses and by that itself assures a gigantic swing of the class struggle. British imperialism will not abandon its positions voluntarily; while dropping its tail before America, it will direct the remains of its energy and its resources against insurgent India.

What an instructive historical lesson it is that the Indian revolution, even in its present stage, when it has not yet broken loose from the treacherous leadership of the national bourgeoisie, is being crushed by the ‘socialist’ government of MacDonald. The bloody repressions of these scoundrels of the Second International who promise to introduce socialism peacefully in their own home countries represent so far that small deposit which British imperialism brings in today on its future accounting in India, The sweet social democratic deliberations about reconciling the interests of bourgeois Britain with democratic India are a necessary supplement to the bloody repressions of MacDonald, who is of course ready, between executions, for the thousand-and-first commission of reconciliation.

The British bourgeoisie understands too well that the loss of India would not only mean the crash of its sufficiently rotted world power but also a social collapse in its own metropolis. It is a struggle of life and death. All forces will be set in motion. This means that the revolution will have to mobilize irresistibile energy. The many-millioned mass has already begun to stir. They showed their half-blind force to such an extent that the national bourgeoisie was compelled to come out of its passivity and master the movement in order to break the edge of the revolutionary sword. Gandhi’s passive resistance[17] is the tactical knot that combines the naivete and self-denying blindness of the disunited and petty bourgeois masses with the treacherous manoeuvres of the liberal bourgeoisie. The fact that the chairman of the Indian Legislative Assembly, that is, the official organ of the machinations with imperialism, gave up his post to head the movement for the boycott of British goods, is of a deeply symbolic character. ‘We will prove to you,’ say the national bourgeoisie to the gentlemen on the Thames, ‘that we are indispensable for you, that without us you will not calm the masses; but for this we will present you with our own bill.’

By way of reply, MacDonald puts Gandhi in jail. It is possible that the lackey goes further than the master intends, being conscientious beyond reason in order to justify his faith. It is possible that the Conservatives, serious and experienced imperialists, would not at the present stage go so far with repressions. But on the other hand the national leaders of the passive opposition are themselves in need of repression as support for their considerably shaken reputations. MacDonald does them this service. While shooting down workers and peasants, he arrests Gandhi with an abundance of forewarning such as the Russian provisional government used to arrest the Kornilovs and Denikins.[18]

If India is a component element in the internal rule of the British bourgeoisie, then on the other hand, the imperialist rule of British capital over India is a component element of the internal order of India. The question cannot at all be reduced to one of the mere expulsion of some tens of thousands of foreign exploiters. They cannot be separated from the internal oppressors and the harder the internal oppressors and the harder the pressure of the masses will become the less will the latter want to separate. just as in Russia the liquidation of Tsarism together with its indebtedness to world firiance capital became possible only because to the peasantry the abolition of the monarchy grew out of the abolition of the landowning magnates, to the same degree also in India the struggle with imperialist oppressions grows out of the countless masses of the oppressed and semi-pauperized peasantry, out of the necessity of liquidating the feudal landlords, their agents and intermediaries, the chinovniks[19] and sharks.

The Indian peasant wants a ‘just’ distribution of land. That is the basis of democratism. And this is at the same time the social basis of the democratic revolution as a whole.

At the first stages of their struggle the ignorant, inexperienced and disunited peasantry which, in single villages, opposes the individual representatives of the hated regime, always resorts to passive resistance. It does not pay rent, does not pay taxes, it escapes to the woods, or deserts from military service, etc. The Tolstoyan formulae[20] of passive resistance were in a sense the first stages of the revolutionary awakening of the peasant masses. Gandhi does the same in regard to the masses of the Indian people. The more ‘sincere’ he is personally, the more useful he is for the owners as an instrument for the disciplining of the masses. The support of the bourgeoisie for peaceful resistance to imperialism is only a preliminary condition for its bloody resistance to the revolutionary masses.

From passive forms of struggle, the peasantry has more than once in history passed over to the severest and bloodiest wars against their direct enemies: the land owners, the authorities and the loan sharks. The Middle Ages were full of such peasant wars in Europe; but they are also full of merciless suppression of peasant wars. Passive resistance of the peasantry as well as its bloody uprisings can be turned into a revolution only under the leadership of the urban class which thus becomes the leader of the revolutionary nation and after the victory—the bearers of the revolutionary power. In the present epoch such a class can be only the proletariat, even in the Orient.

It is true that the Indian proletariat occupy a smaller numerical place in the composition of the population than even the Russian proletariat on the eve of 1905 and 1917. This comparatively small size of the proletariat was the main argument of all the philistines, all the Martinovs, all the Mensheviks[21] against the perspective of the permanent revolution. They considered fantastic the very thought that the Russian proletariat, thrusting the bourgeois aside, would take hold of the agrarian revolution of the peasantry, would give it a bold swing, and rise on its wave to the revolutionary dictatorship. Therefore they considered realistic the hope that the liberal bourgeoisie, leaning on the masses of the city and village, would complete the democratic revolution. But it turned out that their social statistics of the population are far from measuring the economic or the political role of single classes. The October revolution, by experience has proved this once and for all and very convincingly.

If today the Indian proletariat is numerically weaker than the Russian this in itself does not at all pre-determine the smaller swing of its revolutionary possibilities, just as the numerical weakness of the Russian proletariat compared to the American and British was no hindrance to the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia. On the contrary all those social peculiarities which made possible and unavoidable the October revolution are present in India in a still sharper form. In this country of poor peasants, the hegemony of the city has no less clear a character than in tsarist Russia. The concentration of industrial, commercial and banking power in the hands of the big bourgeoisie, primarily the foreign bourgeoisie, on the one hand; a swift growth of a sharply-defined proletariat, on the other, excludes the possibility of an independent role of the petty bourgeoisie of the city and to an extent the intellectuals and transforms by this the political mechanics of the revolution into a struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie for the leadership of the peasant masses. So far there is ‘only’ one condition missing: a Bolshevik Party. And that is where the problem lies now.

We were witnesses to the way the leadership of Stalin and Bukharin carried out the Menshevik conception of the democratic revolution in China. Armed with a powerful apparatus this leadership had the opportunity of applying the Menshevik formulae in deeds and by that alone was compelled to carry them to a conclusion. In order best to secure the leading role of the bourgeoisie in the bourgeois revolution (this is the basic idea of Russian Menshevism) the Stalinist bureaucracy transformed the young Communist Party of China into a subordinate section of the national bourgeois party. In connection with that, according to the terms officially arrived at between Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek (through the intermediary of the present People’s Commissar of Education, Bubnov), the Communists had no right to occupy more than one third of the posts within the Kuomintang. The Party of the proletariat this way entered the revolution as an official captive of the bourgeoisie with the blessings of the Cl. The result is known: the Stalinist bureaucracy slew the Chinese revolution. History has never known a political crime equal in extent to this one. For India, just as for all countries of the Orient in general, Stalin advanced in 1924 simultaneously with the reactionary idea of socialism in one country, the no less reactionary idea of ‘dual composition worker and peasant parties’. This was another formula for the same rejection of independent policy and of an independent party of the proletariat. The unfortunate Roy[22] has ever since that time become the apostle of the super-class and supra-class ‘peoples’ or ‘democratic’ party. The history of Marxism, the development of the nineteenth century, the experience of the three Russian revolutions, everything passed for these gentlemen without leaving a trace. They have not yet understood that the ‘worker-peasant party’ is conceivable only in the form of a Kuomintang, that is in the form of a bourgeois party leading behind itself the workers and peasants in order later on to betray and crush them. History has not yet invented another type of a supra-class, or intra-class party. After all, not in vain was Roy the agent of Stalin in China, the prophet of the struggle against ‘Trotskyism’, the executor of the Martinovist ‘bloc of four classes’, in order to become the ritualistic scapegoat for the crimes of the Stalinist bureaucracy, after the inevitable defeat of the Chinese revolution. Six years passed in India in weakening and demoralizing experiments with the realization of the Stalinist prescription for the two-class worker-peasant parties. The results are at hand: impotent, provincial ‘worker-peasant parties’, which waver, limp along or simply melt away and are reduced to nothing precisely at a moment when they are supposed to act, that is, at a moment of revolutionary tide. But there is no proletarian party. It must still be created in the fire of events and at that it will be first necessary to remove the garbage piled up by the leading bureaucracy. Such is the situation! Beginning with 1924, the leadership of the Comintern has done everything that could be done to render impotent the Indian proletariat, to weaken the will of the vanguard, and to clip its wings.

While Roy and the other Stalinist pupils were wasting precious years in order to elaborate a democratic programme for a supra-class party, the national bourgeoisie used this dawdling to the maximum in order to seize the trade unions. If not politically, then in the trade unions, the Kuiomintang has been accomplished in India, true, with the difference that the creators have in the meantime become frightened by their own handiwork, and have jumped aside heaping slander on the ‘executors’.

This time the centrists jumped, as is known, to the ‘Left’, but matters did not improve by this. The official position of the Comintern on the questions of the Indian revolution is such a tangled ball of yarn which is apparently intended especially to derail the proletarian vanguard and bring it to despair. At any rate, half of it goes on because the leadership strives constantly and wilfully to conceal its mistakes of yesterday. The second half of the tangle must be credited to the hapless nature of centrism.

We have in mind at present not the programme of the Comintern which ascribes to the colonial bourgeoisie a revolutionary role, completely approving the constructions of Brandler and Roy who still continue to wear the Martinov-Stalin cloak. We also do not speak of the innumerable editions of the Stalinist Questions of Leninism where, in all the languages of the world, the discourse on the dual composition worker and peasant parties continues. No. We limit ourselves to the present, to today’s latest posing of the question which is in conformity with the Third Period mistakes of the Comintern in the Orient.

The central slogan of the Stalinists for India, as well as for China, still remains the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants. Nobody knows, nobody explains, because nobody understands what this formula signifies at present, in the year 1930, after the experience of the past fifteen years. In what way is the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants supposed to be distinguished from the dictatorship of the Kuomintang which massacred the workers and peasants? The Manuilskys and Kuusinens will perhaps answer that they now talk about the dictatorship of three classes (workers, peasants and the city petty bourgeoisie) and not four as it was in China where Stalin had so happily attracted to the bloc his ally, Chiang Kai-shek.

If so, we reply, then make an effort to explain to us why you reject the national bourgeoisie in India, that is that ally for the rejection of whom in China you expelled Bolsheviks from the Communist Party and then imprisoned them? China is a semi-colonial country. In China, there is no powerful caste of feudal lords and feudal agents. But India is a classic colonial country with a mighty heritage of the feudal caste regime. If the revolutionary role of the Chinese bourgeoisie was deduced by Stalin and Martinov from the presence in China of foreign oppression and feudal remnants, then for India each of these reasons should hold with doubled force. This means that the Indian bourgeoisie, according to the exact basis of the programme of the Comintern, has immeasurably more rights to demand its inclusion in the Stalinist bloc than the Chinese bourgeoisie with its unforgettable Chiang Kai-shek and the ‘true’ Wang Ching-Wei. And if this is not so, if in spite of the oppression of British imperialism and the whole heritage of the Middle Ages, the Indian bourgeoisie is capable only of a counter-revolutionary and not a revolutionary role—then condemn mercilessly your treacherous Policy in China and correct immediately your programme in which this Policy has left cowardly but sinister traces!

But this does not exhaust the question. If in India you construct a bloc without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie, then who will lead it? The Manuilskys and Kuusinens will perhaps answer with their characteristically gentle ardour: ‘The proletariat, of course!’ Good, we answer, it is quite complimentary. But if the Indian revolution will develop on a basis of a union of workers, peasants and the petty bourgeoisie; if this union will be directed not only against imperialism, feudalism, but also against the national bourgeoisie which is bound up with them in all basic questions; if at the head of this union will stand the proletariat, if this union comes to victory only by sweeping away the enemies through armed uprising and in this way raises the proletariat to the role of the real all-national leader—then the question arises: in whose hands will the power be after the victory if not in the hands of the proletariat? What is the significance in such a case of the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants in distinction to the dictatorship of the proletariat leading the peasantry? In other words: in what way will the hypothetical dictatorship of the workers and peasants be distinguished in its type from the actual dictatorship which the October revolution established?

There is no reply to this question. There can be no reply to it. By this course of historical development the’ democratic dictatorship’ has become not only an empty fiction but a treacherous trap for the proletariat.

That slogan is correct which admits the possibility of two diametrically opposed explanations: in the sense of the dictatorship of the Ktiornintang and in the sense of the October dictatorship! There can be nothing in between these two. In China, the Stalinists explained the democratic dictatorship twice, at first as a dictatorship of the Kuomintang of the Right, and afterwards of the Left. But how do they explain it in India? They are silent. They are compelled to keep silent for fear of opening the eyes of their supporters to their crimes. This conspiracy of silence is actually a conspiracy against the Indian revolution. And all the present extremely Left or ultra-Left noise does not improve the situation one iota for the victories of the revolution are not secured by noise and clatter but by political clarity.

But what has been said does not yet unwind the tangled yarn. No. Here is precisely where new threads are twisted into it. Giving the revolution an abstract democratic character and permitting it to pass to the dictatorship of the proletariat only after some sort of a mystical or mystifying ‘democratic dictatorship’ is established, our strategists at the same time reject the central political slogan of every revolutionary democratic movement, which is precisely the slogan of the Constituent Assembly. Why? On what basis? It is absolutely incomprehensible. The democratic revolution signifies equality to the peasant—above all equality in the distribution of land. On this is based the equality of rights. The Constituent Assembly, where the representatives of the whole people formally draw the balance with the past and the classes actually draw the balance with each other, is the natural and inevitable combination of the democratic tasks of the revolution not only in the consciousness of the awakening masses of the peasantry but also in the consciousness of the working class itself. We have spoken of this more fully with regard to China and we do not see here the necessity of repetition. Let us only add that the provincial multi-formity of India, the variegated governmental forms, and their no less variegated bond with the feudal caste relations, saturates the slogan of the Constituent Assembly in India with a particularly deep revolutionary democratic content.

The theoretician of the Indian revolution in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at present is Safarov,[23] who with the price of a happy capitulation transferred his injurious activities to the camp of centrism. In a programmatic article in the Bolshevik about the forces and tasks of the revolution in India, Safarov carefully circles around the question of the Constituent Assembly just like an experienced rat circles around a piece of cheese on a hook - this sociologist does not by any means want to fall into the Trotskyist trap a second time. Disposing of the problem without much ceremony he counter-poses to the Constituent Assembly such a perspective: "The development of a new revolutionary ascent on the basis (!) of struggle for the proletarian hegemony leads to the conclusion (whom? how? why?—ed.) that the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in India can be achieved only in the Soviet form." (Bolshevik, 1930, No. 5, page 100).

Amazing lines! Martinov multiplied by Safarov. Martinov we know and about Safarov Lenin said not without tenderness: ‘Safarcick will go Leftist, Safarchik will pull boners.’ The above-mentioned Safarovist perspective does not invalidate this characterization. Safarov has gone considerably Leftist and it must be admitted that he did not upset the second half of Lenin’s formula. To begin with, the question of the revolutionary ascent of the masses of the people develops ‘on the basis’ of the struggle of the Communists for proletarian hegemony. The whole process is turned on its head. We think that the proletarian vanguard enters or is preparing to enter or should enter a struggle for hegemony on the basis of a new revolutionary ascent. The perspective of struggle, according to Safarov, is the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. Here, for the sake of Leftism, the word ‘democratic’ is shaken off. But it is not said frankly what kind of a dual composition dictatorship this is: a Kuomintang or an October type. But for that we are assured on his word of honour that this dictatorship can be accomplished ‘only in the Soviet form’. It sounds very noble. Why the slogan of the Constituent Assembly? Safarov is ready to agree only with the Soviet ‘form’.

The essence of epigonism—its contemptible and sinister essence—lies in the fact that from the actual processes of the past and its lessons it abstracts only the bare form and converts it into a fetish. This is what has happened to the Soviets. Without saying anything about the class character of the dictatorship—a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat, like the Kuomintang, or a dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, like the October?—Safarov lulls somebody and primarily himself, by the Soviet form of the dictatorship. As if the Soviets cannot be a weapon for deceiving the workers and peasants! What else were the Menshevik-Socialist Revolutionary Soviets of 1917? Nothing but a weapon for the support of the power of the bourgeoisie and the preparation of its dictatorship. What were the social democratic Soviets in Germany and Austria in 1918-1919? Organs for saving the bourgeoisie and for deceiving the workers. With the further development of the revolutionary movement in India, with the greater swing of mass struggles and with the weakness of the Communist Party—and the latter is inevitable with a Safarovist muddle prevailing in its mind—the Indian national bourgeoisie itself may create workers’ and peasants’ Soviets in order to direct them just as it now directs the trade unions, in order thus to slaughter the revolution as the German social democracy, by getting at the head of the Soviets, slaughtered it. The treacherous character of the slogan of the democratic dictatorship lies in the fact that it does not close tightly to the enemies, once and for all, such a possibility.

The Indian Communist Party, the creation of which was held back for six years—and what years!—is now deprived, in the circumstances of revolutionary democratic ascent, of one of the most important weapons for mobilizing the masses, precisely the slogan of the democratic Constituent Assembly. Instead of that, the young Party which has not yet taken its first steps is inflicted with the abstract slogan of Soviets as a form of abstract dictatorship, that is, a dictatorship of nobody knows what class. It is truly an apotheosis of confusion! And all this is accompanied as usual with disgusting colouring and sugaring of an as yet difficult and not in the least sweet situation.

The official press, particularly this same Safarov, depicts the situation as if bourgeois nationalism in India is already a corpse, as if communism either has got or is getting at the head of the proletariat, which, in its turn, is already almost leading the peasantry behind it. The leaders and their sociologists, in the most conscienceless manner, proclaim the desired as the existing. To put it more correctly, they proclaim that which might have been with a correct policy for the past six years, for what has actually developed as a result of the false policy. But when the inconsistency of the inventions and realities are revealed, the ones to be blamed will be the Indian Communists, as bad executors of the general inconsistency which is advanced as a general line.

The vanguard of the Indian proletariat is as yet at the threshold of its great tasks and there is a long road ahead. A series of defeats will be the reckoning not only for the general backwardness of the proletariat and the peasantry but also for the sins of the leadership. The chief task at present is a clear Marxist conception of the moving forces of the revolution, and a correct perspective, a far-sighted policy which rejects stereotyped, bureaucratic prescriptions, but which, in the accomplishment of great revolutionary tasks, carefully adjusts itself to the actual stages of the political awakening and the revolutionary growth of the working class.

Written on 30th May, 1930 and published in Byulleten Oppozitsii, June-July 1930

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Dear Comrade Perera,
The question about the possible military intervention of the Red Army in India (not to speak about Ceylon) has been launched absolutely artificially by some of the American comrades. The possibility is not excluded, but it is not this question that is now on the order of the day. From the principled point of view I don’t see here any new question in comparison with the Chinese or Spanish experience. The Red Army is not an independent political factor but a military instrument of the Bonapartist bureaucracy of the USSR. The military intervention would be only the continuation of the political intervention and the political intervention of Stalin’s Comintern is developing in India as elsewhere every day. But our task is not to speculate about the possibilities of a future military intervention—rather it is to learn how to fight against the present political intervention. Every fight demands a correct appreciation of all the factors involved.

The first thing is not to forget that the direct enemy of the Indian workers and peasants is not the Red Army but British imperialism. Some comrades, who in the last period have replaced Marxist policy by anti-Stalinist policy, forget the political realities in India and imitate the Stalinists of yesterday who proclaimed—before the Stalin-Hitler pact of course—that the main enemy in India is … Japan.

The Stalinists in India directly support the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois national parties and do all they can to subjugate the workers and peasants through these parties. What we must do is create an absolutely independent proletarian party with a clear class programme.

The general historic role of the Stalinist bureaucracy and their Comintern is counter-revolutionary. But through their military and other interests they can be forced to support progressive movements. (Even Ludendorff[24] felt himself forced to give Lenin a train—a very progressive action—and Lenin accepted it.) We must keep our eyes open to discern the progressive acts of the Stalinists, support them independently, foresee in time the danger, the betrayals, warn the masses and gain their confidence. If our policy is firm and intransigent and realistic at the same time, we would succeed in compromising the Stalinists on the basis of the revolutionary experience. If the Red Army intervenes we will continue the same policy, adapting it to military conditions. We will teach the Indian workers to fraternize with the rank-and-file soldiers and denounce the repressive measures of their commanders and so on.

The main task in India is the overthrow of the British domination. This task imposes upon the proletariat the support of every oppositional and revolutionary action directed against imperialism.

This support must be inspired by a firm distrust of the national bourgeoisie and their petty-bourgeois agencies.

We must not confound our organization, our programme, our banner with theirs for a moment.

We must observe strictly the old rule: march separately, strike together.

We must keep a suspicious eye on the temporary ally as well as on the foe.

We must use the dissensions of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois tendencies in order to reinforce the self-confidence of the proletarian vanguard.

If we follow seriously these good old rules, the intervention of the Red Army would not take us unawares.

With warmest greetings to yourself and to the Ceylon comrades, and with best wishes for your trip,

Yours comradely, L. Trotsky

Letter to an Indian comrade (dated 24th November, 1939), Internal Bulletin of the Socialist Workers Party, December 1939

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An Open Letter to the Workers of India

Dear Friends,
Titanic and terrible events are approaching with implacable force. Mankind lives in expectation of war which will, of course, also draw into its maelstrom the colonial countries and which is of vital significance for their destiny. Agents of the British government depict the matter as though the war will be waged for principles of ‘democracy’ which must be saved from fascism. All classes and peoples must rally around the peaceful’ ‘democratic’ governments so as to repel the fascist aggressors. Then ‘democracy ~ will be saved and peace stabilized forever. This gospel rests on a deliberate lie. If the British government were really concerned with the flowering of democracy then a very simple opportunity to demonstrate this exists: let the government give complete freedom to India. The right of national independence is one of the elementary democratic rights. But actually, the London government is ready to hand over all the democracies in the world in return for one tenth of its colonies.

If the Indian people do not wish to remain as slaves for all eternity, then they must expose and reject those false preachers who assert that the sole enemy of the people is fascism. Hitler and Mussolini are, beyond doubt, the bitterest enemies of the toilers and oppressed. They are gory executioners, deserving of the greatest hatred from the toilers and oppressed of the world. But they are, before everything, the enemies of the German and Italian peoples on whose backs they sit. The oppressed classes and peoples—as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Liebknecht[25] have taught us—must always seek out their main and enemy at home, cast in the role of their own immediate oppressors. exploiters. In India that enemy above all is the British bourgeoisie. The overthrow of British imperialism would deliver a terrible blow at all the oppressors, including the fascist dictators. In the long run the imperialists are distinguished from one another in form—not in essence. German imperialism, deprived of colonies, puts on the fearful mask of fascism with its sabre-teeth protruding. British imperialism, gorged, because it possesses immense colonies, hides its sabre-teeth behind a mask of democracy. But this democracy exists only for the metropolitan centre, for the 45,000,000 souls—or more correctly, for the ruling bourgeoisie—in the metropolitan centre. India is deprived not only of democracy but of the most elementary right of national independence. Imperialist democracy is thus the democracy of slave owners fed by the life blood of the colonies. But India seeks her own democracy, and not to serve as fertilizer for the slave owners.

Those who desire to end fascism, reaction and all forms of oppression must overthrow imperialism. There is no other road. This task cannot, however, be accomplished by peaceful methods, by negotiations and pledges. Never before in history have slave owners voluntarily freed their slaves. Only a bold, resolute struggle of the Indian people for their economic and national emancipation can free India.

The Indian bourgeoisie is incapable of leading a revolutionary struggle. They are closely bound up with and dependent upon British capitalism. They tremble for their own property. They stand in fear of the masses. They seek compromises with British imperialism no matter what the price and lull the Indian masses with hopes of reforms from above. The leader and prophet of this bourgeoisie is Gandhi. A fake leader and a false prophet! Gandhi and his compeers have developed a theory that India’s position will constantly improve, that her liberties will continually be enlarged and that India will gradually become a Dominion on the road of peaceful reforms. Later on, perhaps even achieve full independence. This entire perspective is false to the core. The imperialist classes were able to make concessions to colonial peoples as well as to their own workers, only so long as capitalism marched uphill, so long as the exploiters could firmly bank an the further growth of profits. Nowadays there cannot even be talk of this. World imperialism is in decline. The condition of all imperialist nations daily becomes more difficult while the contradictions between them become more and more aggravated. Monstrous armaments devour an ever greater share of national incomes. The imperialists can no longer make serious concessions either to their own toiling masses or to the colonies. On the contrary, they are compelled to resort to an ever more bestial exploitation. It is precisely in this that capitalism’s death agony is expressed. To retain their colonies, markets and concessions, from Germany, Italy and Japan, the London government stands ready to mow down millions of people. Is it possible, without losing one’s senses, to pin any hopes that this greedy and savage financial oligarchy will voluntarily free India?

True enough, a government of the so-called Labour Party may replace the Tory government. But this will alter nothing. The Labour Party—as witness its entire past and present programme—is in no way distinguished from the Tories on the colonial question. The Labour Party in reality expresses not the interests of the working class, but only the interests of the British labour bureaucracy and labour aristocracy. It is to this stratum that the bourgeoisie can toss juicy morsels, due to the fact that they themselves ruthlessly exploit the colonies, above all India. The British labour bureaucracy—in the Labour Party as well as in the trade unions—is directly interested in the exploitation of colonies. It has not the slightest desire to think of the emancipation of India. All these gentlemen—Major Attlee, Sir Walter Citrine and Co.—are ready at any moment to brand the revolutionary movement of the Indian people as ‘betrayal’, as aid to Hitler and Mussolini and to resort to military measures for its suppression.

In no way superior is the policy of the present day Communist International. To be sure, 20 years ago the Third, or Communist, International was founded as a genuine revolutionary organization. One of its most important tasks was the liberation of the colonial peoples. Only recollections today remain of this programme, however. The leaders of the Communist International have long since become the mere tools of the Moscow bureaucracy which has stifled the Soviet working masses and which has become transformed into a new aristocracy. In the ranks of the Communist Parties of various countries—including India—there are no doubt many honest workers, students, etc.: but they do not fix the politics of the Comintern. The deciding word belongs to the Kremlin which is guided not by the interests of the oppressed, but by those of the USSR’s new aristocracy.

Stalin and his clique, for the sake of an alliance with the imperialist governments, have completely renounced the revolutionary programme for the emancipation of the colonies. This was openly avowed at the last Congress of Stalin’s party in Moscow in March of the current year by Manuilsky, one of the leaders of the Comintern, who declared: ‘The Communists advance to the forefront the struggle for the realization of the right of self-determination of nationalities enslaved by fascist governments. They demand free self-determination for Austria … the Sudeten regions … Korea, Formosa, Abyssinia. …’ And what about India, Indo-China, Algeria and other colonies of England and France? The Comintern representative answers this question as follows, ‘The Communists . . demand of the imperialist governments of the so-called bourgeois democratic states the immediate [sic] drastic [!] improvement in the living standards of the toiling masses in the colonies and the granting of broad democratic rights and liberties to the colonies.’ (Pravda, issue No. 70, March 12, 1939.) In other words, as regards the colonies of England and France the Comintern has completely gone over to Gandhi’s position and the position of the conciliationist colonial bourgeoisie in general. The Comintern has completely renounced revolutionary struggle for India’s independence. It ‘demands’ (on its hands and knees) the ‘granting’ of ‘democratic liberties’ to India by British imperialism. The words ‘immediate drastic improvement in the living standards of the toiling masses in the colonies’, have an especially false and cynical ring. Modem capitalism—declining, gangrenous, disintegrating -is more and more compelled to worsen the position of workers in the metropolitan centre itself. How then can it improve the position of the toilers in the colonies from whom it is compelled to squeeze out all the juices of life so as to maintain its own state of equilibrium? The improvement of the conditions of the toiling masses in the colonies is possible only on the road to the complete overthrow of imperialism.

But the Communist International has travelled even further on this road of betrayal. Communists, according to Manuilsky, ‘subordinate the realization of this right of secession . . in the interests of defeating fascism.’ In other words, in the event of war between England and France over colonies, the Indian people must support their present slave-owners, the British imperialists. That is to say, must shed their blood not for their own emancipation, but for the preservation of the rule of ‘the City’ over India. And these cheaply-to-be-bought scoundrels dare to quote Marx and Lenin! As a matter of fact, their teacher and leader is none other than Stalin, the head of a new bureaucratic aristocracy, the butcher of the Bolshevik Party, the strangler of workers and peasants.

The Stalinists cover up their policy of servitude to British, French and USA imperialism with the formula of ‘People’s Front’. What a mockery of the people. `People’s Front’ is only a new name for that old policy, the gist of which lies in class collaboration, in a coalition between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In every such coalition, the leadership invariably turns out to be in the hands of the rightwing, that is, in the hands of the propertied class. The Indian bourgeoisie, as has already been stated, wants a peaceful horse trade and not a struggle. Coalition with the bourgeoisie leads to the proletariat’s abnegating the revolutionary struggle against imperialism. The policy of coalition implies marking time on one spot, temporizing, cherishing false hopes, engaging in hollow manoeuvres and intrigues. As a result of this policy disillusionment inevitably sets in among the working masses, while the peasants turn their backs on the proletariat, and fall into apathy. The German revolution, the Austrian revolution, the Chinese revolution and the Spanish revolution have all perished as a result of the policy of coalition.[26] The self-same danger also menaces the Indian revolution where the Stalinists, under the guise of ‘People’s Front’, are putting across a policy of subordinating the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. This signifies, in action, a rejection of the revolutionary agrarian programme, a rejection of arming the workers, a rejection of the struggle for power, a rejection of revolution.

In the event that the Indian bourgeoisie finds itself compelled to take even the tiniest step on the road of struggle against the arbitrary rule of Great Britain, the proletariat will naturally support such a step. But they will support it with their own methods: mass meetings, bold slogans, strikes, demonstrations and more decisive combat actions, depending on the relationship of forces and the circumstances. Precisely to do this must the proletariat have its hands free. Complete independence from the bourgeoisie is indispensable to the proletariat, above all in order to exert influence on the peasantry, the predominant mass of India’s population. Only the proletariat is capable of advancing a bold, revolutionary agrarian programme, of rousing and rallying tens of millions of peasants and leading them in struggle against the native oppressors and British imperialism. The alliance of workers and poor peasants is the only honest, reliable alliance that can assure the final victory of the Indian revolution.

All peacetime questions will preserve their full force in time of war, except that they will be invested with a far sharper expression. First of all, exploitation of the colonies will become greatly intensified. The metropolitan centres will not only pump from the colonies foodstuffs and raw materials, but they will also mobilize vast numbers of colonial slaves who are to die on the battlefields for their master. Meanwhile, the colonial bourgeoisie will have its snout deep in the trough of war orders and will naturally renounce opposition in the name of patriotism and profits. Gandhi is already preparing the ground for such a policy. These gentlemen will keep drumming: ‘We must wait patiently till the war ends—and then London will reward us for the assistance we have given.’ As a matter of fact, the imperialists will redouble and treble their exploitation of the toilers both at home and especially in the colonies so as to rehabilitate the country after the havoc and devastation of the war. In these circumstances there cannot even be talk of new social reforms in the metropolitan centres or of grants of liberties to the colonies. Double chains of slavery—that will be the inevitable consequence of the war if the masses of India follow the politics of Gandhi, the Stalinists and their friends.

The war, however, may bring to India as well as to the other colonies not a redoubled slavery but, on the contrary, complete liberty: the proviso for this is a correct revolutionary policy. The Indian people must divorce their fate from the very outset from that of British imperialism. The oppressors and the oppressed stand on opposite sides of the trenches. No aid whatsoever to the slave-owners! On the contrary, those immense difficulties which the war will bring in its wake must be used so as to deal a mortal blow to all the ruling classes. That is how the oppressed classes and peoples in all countries should act, irrespective of whether Messrs. Imperialists don democratic or fascist masks.

To realize such a policy a revolutionary party, basing itself on the vanguard of the proletariat, is necessary. Such a party does not yet exist in India. The Fourth International offers this party its programme, its experience, its collaboration. The basic conditions for this party are: complete independence from imperialist democracy, complete independence from the Second and Third Internationals and complete independence from the national Indian bourgeoisie.

In a number of colonial and semi-colonial countries sections of the Fourth International already exist and are making successful progress. First place among them is unquestionably held by our section in French Indo-China[27] which is conducting an irreconcilable struggle against French imperialism and ‘People’s Front’ mystifications. ‘The Stalinist leaders,’ A is stated in the newspaper of the Saigon workers (The Struggle-La Lutte), of April 7, 1939,1ave taken yet another step on the road of betrayal. Throwing off their masks as revolutionists, they have become champions of imperialism and openly speak out against emancipation of the oppressed colonial peoples. Owing to their bold revolutionary politics, the Saigon proletarians, members of the Fourth International, scored a brilliant victory over the bloc of the ruling party and the Stalinists at the elections to the colonial council held in April of this year.

The very same policy ought to be pursued by the advanced workers of British India. We must cast away false hopes and repel false friends. We must pin hope only upon ourselves, our own revolutionary forces. The struggle for national independence, for an independent Indian republic is indissolubly linked up with the agrarian revolution, with the nationalization of banks and trusts, with a number of other economic measures aiming to raise the living standard of the country and to make the toiling masses the masters of their own destiny. Only the proletariat in an alliance with the peasantry is capable of executing these tasks.

In its initial stage the revolutionary party will no doubt comprise a tiny minority. In contras t to other parties, however, it will render a clear accounting of the situation and fearlessly march towards its great goal. It is indispensable in all the industrial centres and cities to establish workers’ groups, standing under the banner of the Fourth International. Only those intellectuals who have completely come over to the side of the proletariat must be allowed into these groups. Alien to sectarian self-immersion, the revolutionary worker-Marxists must actively participate in the work of the trade unions, educational societies, the Congress Socialist Party[28] and, in general all mass organizations. Everywhere they remain as the extreme left-wing, everywhere they set the example of courage in action, everywhere, in a patient and comradely manner, they explain their programme to the workers, peasants and revolutionary intellectuals. impending events will come to the aid of the Indian Bolshevik-Leninists, revealing to the masses the correctness of their path. The party will grow swiftly and become tempered in the fire. Allow me to express my firm hope that the revolutionary struggle for the emancipation of India will unfold under the banner of the Fourth International.

With warmest comradely greetings,
Leon Trotsky

Byulleten oppozitsii, August-October, 1939

* * *

India is participating in the imperialist war on the side of Great Britain. Does this mean that our attitude towards India not the Indian Bolsheviks but India—is the same as toward Great Britain? If there exist in this world, in addition to Shachtman and Burnham, only two imperialist camps, then where, permit me to ask, shall we put India? A Marxist will say that despite India’s being an integral part of the British Empire and India’s participating in the imperialist war; despite the perfidious policy of Gandhi and other nationalist leaders, our attitude toward India is altogether different from our attitude toward Britain. We defend India against Britain. Why then cannot our attitude toward the Soviet Union be different from our attitude toward Germany despite the fact that Stalin is allied with Hitler? Why can’t we defend the more progressive social forms which are capable of development against reactionary forms which are capable only of decomposition? We not only can but we must! The theoreticians of the stolen magazine replace class analysis with a mechanistic construction very captivating to petty-bourgeois intellectuals because of its pseudo-symmetry. just as the Stalinists camouflage their subservience to national socialism (the Nazis) with harsh epithets addressed to the imperialist democracies, so Shachtman and Co[29] cover up their capitulation to American petty-bourgeois public opinion with the pompous phraseology of the ‘third camp. As if this ‘third camp’ (what is it? a party? a club? a League of Abandoned Hopes? a ‘People’s Front’?) is free from the obligation of having a correct policy toward the petty bourgeoisie, the trade unions, India and the USSR!

From ‘Petty Bourgeois Moralists and the Proletarian Party’, Socialist Appeal, 4th May, 1940, re-published in In Defence of Marxism, 1940

* * *

In the very first weeks of war the Indian masses exerted their growing pressure, compelling the opportunist ‘national’ leaders to speak in an unaccustomed tongue. But woe to the Indian people if they place trust in high-sounding words! Under the mask of the slogan of national independence Gandhi has already hastened to proclaim his refusal to create difficulties for Great Britain during the present severe crisis. As if the oppressed anywhere or at any time have ever been able to free themselves except by exploiting the difficulties of their oppressors 1

Gandhi’s ‘moral’ revulsion from violence merely reflects the fear of the Indian bourgeoisie before their own masses. They have very good grounds for their foreboding that British imperialism will drag them down too in the collapse. London for its part warns that at the first display of disobedience it will apply ‘all necessary measures’ -including, of course, the air force in which it is deficient at the Western Front. There is a clear-cut division of labour between the colonial bourgeoisie and the British government: Gandhi needs the threats of Chamberlain and Churchill in order more successfully to paralyse the revolutionary movement.

In the near future the antagonism between the Indian masses and the bourgeoisie promises to become sharper as the imperialist war more and more becomes a gigantic commercial enterprise for the Indian bourgeoisie. By opening up an exceptionally favourable market for raw materials it may rapidly promote Indian industry. If the complete destruction of the British empire slashes the umbilical cord linking Indian capital with the City of London, the national bourgeoisie would quickly seek a new patron in New York’s Wall Street. The material interests of the bourgeoisie determine their politics with the force of the laws of gravitation.

So long as the liberating movement is controlled by the exploiting class it is incapable of getting out of a blind alley. The only thing that can weld India together is the agrarian revolution under the banner of national independence. A revolution led by the proletariat will be directed not only against British rule but also against the Indian princes, foreign concessions, the top layer of the national bourgeoisie, and the leaders of the National Congress as well as against the leaders of the Moslem League.[30] It is the pressing task of the Fourth International to create a stable and powerful section in India.

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

* * *

Britain and Mexico, 1938 FAIR PLAY FOR MEXICO

Dear Sir:
In the vocabulary of all civilized nations there exists the word, cynicism. As a classic example of brazen cynicism, the British government’s defence of the interests of a clique of capitalist exploiters should be introduced into all encyclopaedias. I am therefore not mistaken if I say that world public opinion awaits the voice of the British Labour Party regarding the scandalous role of British diplomacy in the question of the expropriation of the Eagle joint-stock oil company by the Mexican government.[31]

The juridical side of the question is clear to a child. With the aim of exploiting the natural wealth of Mexico, the British capitalists placed themselves under the protection and at the same time under the control of Mexican laws and the Mexican authorities. No one compelled Messrs. Capitalists to do this either by military force or through diplomatic notes. They acted entirely voluntarily and consciously. Now Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Halifax wish to force mankind into believing that the British capitalists have pledged themselves to recognize Mexican laws only within those limits where they find it necessary. Moreover, it accidentally occurs that the completely ‘impartial’ interpretation of the Mexican laws by Chamberlain Halifax coincides exactly with the interpretation of the interested capitalists.

The British government cannot, however, deny that only the Mexican government and the Supreme Court of the country are competent to interpret the laws of Mexico. To Lord Halifax, who nourishes warm sympathies for the laws and courts of Hitler, the Mexican laws and courts may seem unjust. But who gave the British government the right to control the inner politics and legal procedure of an independent state? This question already contains part of the answer: the British government, accustomed to command hundreds of millions of colonial slaves and semi-slaves, is trying to fit those same methods also to Mexico. Having encountered courageous resistance, it instructs its lawyers hurriedly to invent arguments in which juridical logic is replaced by imperialist cynicism.

The economic and social side of the problem is as clear as its juridical side. The executive committee of your party would, in my opinion, act correctly if it created a special commission for studying what British, and in general foreign, capital has contributed to Mexico and what it has extracted. Such a commission could within a short period present to the British public the stunning balance of imperialist exploitation!

A small clique of foreign magnates, in the full sense of the word, pumps out the living sap of Mexico as well as of a series of other backward or weak countries. The solemn speeches about foreign capital contributing ‘civilization,’ about it assisting in the development of national economy and so forth, are the sheer Phariseeism. The question, in actuality, concerns plundering the natural wealth of the country. Nature required many millions of years in order to deposit gold, silver, and oil in the sub-soil of Mexico. The foreign imperialists wish to plunder these riches in the shortest possible time, making use of cheap labour power and the protection of their diplomacy and their fleet.

Visit any centre of the mining industry: hundreds of millions of dollars, extracted by foreign capital from the earth, have given nothing, nothing whatever to the culture of the country; neither highways nor buildings nor good development of the cities. Even the premises of the companies themselves often resemble barracks. Why, indeed, should one spend Mexican oil, Mexican gold, Mexican silver on the needs of far-away and alien Mexico when with the profits obtained it is possible to build palaces, museums, theatres in London or in Monaco? Such are the civilizers! In the place of historical riches they leave shafts in the Mexican soil and ill-health among the Mexican workers.

The notes of the British government refer to ‘international law.’ Even irony powerlessly drops its hands in face of this argument. About what kind of international law are we talking? Evidently about the law which triumphed in Ethiopia and to which the British government is now preparing to give its sanction. Evidently about that same law which the aeroplanes and tanks of Mussolini and Hitler are already announcing in Spain for the second year with the British government’s invariable support. The latter held endless conversations about the evacuation of foreign ‘volunteers’ from Spain.

Naive public opinion long thought this meant the halting of intervention by the foreign fascist bandits. Actually the British government demanded of Mussolini only one thing: that he remove his armies from Spain only after he guaranteed the victory of Franco. In this case, as in all others, the problem consisted not in defending ‘international law’ or ‘democracy’ but in safeguarding the interests of British capitalists in the Spanish mining industry from possible attempts on the part of Italy.

In Mexico, the British government carries on basically the same politics as in Spain—passively in relation to Spain, actively in Mexico. We are now witnessing the first steps of this activity. What will be its further development? No one can yet foretell. Chamberlain himself does not yet know. One thing we can affirm with assurance: the further development of the attempts of British imperialism against the independence of Mexico will to a great degree depend upon the conduct of the British working class. Here it is impossible to evade the issue by resort to indefinite formulas. Firm resoluteness is necessary to paralyse the criminal hand of imperialist violence. I therefore finish as I began: world public opinion awaits the firm voice of the British Labour Party!

P. S.—Several imperialist newspapers have attempted to represent me … as the initiator of the expropriation. Such nonsense does not even deserve refutation. I, a private person, enjoying the hospitality of this country, have learned only from the papers all the stages of the struggle of the foreign capitalists against the Mexican laws. But this was completely sufficient to form an opinion. To state this opinion aloud is the elementary duty of every participant in the liberating struggle of the proletariat.

Letter to the editor of the Daily Herald (dated 22nd April, 1938), published in Forward, 7th May, 1938

* * *


The international campaign which imperialist circles are waging over the expropriation of Mexican oil enterprises by the Mexican government has been distinguished by all the features of imperialism’s propagandistic Bacchanalias—combining impudence, deceitfulness, speculation in ignorance with cock-sureness in its own impunity.

The signal for this campaign was given by the British government when it declared a boycott upon Mexican oil. Boycott, as is known, always involves self-boycott, and is therefore accompanied by great sacrifices on the part of the boycotter. Great Britain was until recently the largest consumer of Mexican oil; naturally not out of sympathy for the Mexican people, but out of consideration for her own advantage.

Heaviest consumer of oil in Great Britain itself is the state with its gigantic fleet and rapidly-growing air force. A boycott of Mexican oil by the British government signifies, therefore, a simultaneous boycott not only of British industry but also of national defence. Mr. Chamberlain’s government has shown with unusual frankness that the profits of Britain’s capitalist robbers loom above state interests themselves. Oppressed classes and oppressed peoples must thoroughly learn this fundamental conclusion.

Both chronologically and logically the uprising of General Cedillo[32] grew out of Chamberlain’s policy. The Monroe Doctrine[33] prevents the British admiralty from applying a military-naval blockade of the Mexican coast. They must act through internal agents, who, it is true, do not openly fly the British flag, yet serve the same interests as Chamberlain—the interests of a clique of oil magnates. In the White Book issued by British diplomacy just a few days ago we may be sure that the negotiations of its agents with General Cedillo are not included. Imperialist diplomacy carries on its major business under cover of secrecy. In order to compromise the expropriation in the eyes of bourgeois public opinion, they represent it as a ‘communist’ measure. Historical ignorance combines here with conscious deceit. Semi-colonial Mexico is fighting for her national independence, political and economic. This is the basic meaning of the Mexican revolution at this stage. The oil magnates are not rank-and-file capitalists, not ordinary bourgeoisie. Having seized the richest natural resources of a foreign country, standing on their billions and supported by the military-diplomatic forces of their metropolis, they strive to establish in the subjugated country a regime of imperialistic feudalism, subordinating to themselves legislation, jurisprudence, and administration. Under these conditions expropriation is the only effective means of safeguarding national independence and the elementary conditions of democracy.

What direction the further economic development of Mexico may take depends decisively upon factors of an international character. But this is a question of the future. The Mexican revolution is now carrying out the same work as, for instance, the United States of America accomplished in three quarters of a century, beginning with the Revolutionary War for independence and finishing with the Civil War for the abolition of slavery and for national unification. The British government not only did everything at the end of the eighteenth century to retain the United States under the status of a colony, but later, in the years of the Civil War, supported the slaveholders of the South against the abolitionists of the North, striving for the sake of its imperialist interests to thrust the young republic into a state of economic backwardness and national disunity.

To the Chamberlains of that time, too, the expropriation of the slaveholders seemed a diabolical ‘Bolshevik’ measure. In reality the historic task of the Northerners consisted in clearing the arena for the independent democratic development of bourgeois society. Precisely this task is being solved at this stage by the government of Mexico. General Cardenas stands in the series of those statesmen of his country who have been fulfilling work comparable to that of Washington, Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and General Grant. And, of course, it is not accidental that the British government in this case, too, finds itself on the other side of the historic trench.

The world press, in particular the French, preposterous as it may seem, continues to drag my name into the question of the expropriation of the oil industry. If I have once already refuted this nonsense, it is not at all because I fear ‘responsibility’ as was insinuated by one talkative agent of the GPU. On the contrary, I would consider it an honour to carry even a part of the responsibility for this courageous and progressive measure of the Mexican government. But I do not have the least basis for it. I first learned of the decree of expropriation from the newspapers. But, naturally, this is not the question.

Two aims are pursued in interjecting my name—first, the organizers of the campaign wish to impart to the expropriation a ‘Bolshevik’ coloration; secondly, they are attempting to strike a blow at the national self-respect of Mexico. The imperialists are endeavouring to represent the affair as if Mexico’s statesmen were incapable of determining their own road. A wretched and ignoble hereditary slaveholders’ psychology! Precisely because Mexico today still belongs to those backward nations which are only now impelled to fight for their independence, greater audacity of thought is engendered among her statesmen than is granted to the conservative dregs of a great past. We have witnessed similar phenomena in history more than once!

The French weekly, Marianne, a notorious organ of the French People’s Front, even asserts that on the oil question the government of General Cardenas acted not only as one with Trotsky but also … in the interests of Hitler. It is a question, you see, of depriving the great-hearted ‘democracies’ of oil in case of war and, contrariwise, of supplying Germany and other fascist nations. This is not one whit more clever than the Moscow trials. Humanity learns, not without amazement, that Great Britain is being deprived of Mexican oil because of the ill-will of General Cardenas and not because of Chamberlain’s self-boycott. But then the ‘democracies’ possess a simple way of paralysing this ‘fascist’ plot: let them buy Mexican oil, once more Mexican oil, and again Mexican oil! To every honest and sensible person it is now beyond all doubt that if Mexico should find herself forced to sell her liquid gold to fascist countries the responsibility for this act would fall fully and completely upon the governments of the imperialist ‘democracies.’

Behind the back of Marianne and her ilk stand the Moscow prompters. At first glance this seems preposterous, since other prompters of the same school use diametrically opposed librettos. But the whole secret consists in the fact that the friends of the GPU adapt their views to geographical gradations of latitude and longitude. If some of them promise support to Mexico, others picture General Cardenas as an ally of Hitler. From the latter point of view, Cedillo’s oil rebellion should be viewed, it would seem, as a struggle in the interests of world democracy.

Let us, however, leave the clowns and intriguers to their own fate. We do not have them in mind, but the class-conscious workers of the entire world. Without succumbing to illusions and without fear of slander, the advanced workers will completely support the Mexican people in their struggle against the imperialists. The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism. But it is a highly progressive measure of national self-defence. Marx did not, of course, consider Abraham Lincoln a communist; this did not, however, prevent Marx from entertaining the deepest sympathy for the struggle which Lincoln headed. The First International sent the Civil War president a message of greeting, and Lincoln in his answer highly appreciated this moral support.[34]

The international proletariat has no reason to identify its programme with the programme of the Mexican government; Revolutionists have no need of changing colour, adapting, themselves, and rendering flattery in the manner of the GPU school of courtiers, who in a moment of danger will sell out and betray the weaker side. Without giving up its own identity, every honest working-class organization of the entire world, and first of all in Great Britain, is duty bound to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press and their fascist hirelings. The cause of Mexico, like the cause of Spain, like the cause of China[35] is the cause of the international working class. The struggle over Mexican oil is only one of the advance-line skirmishes of future battles between the oppressors and the oppressed.


1. A secret anti-French society set up in Madagascar in 1916, mostly by native government officials opposed to colonial rule established in 1896. Annam, which covers the central area of modern Vietnam, also saw many revolts against French authority, established there in 1884. These were led by local royalists, native troops and others.

2. Algiers was even at this point a centre of resistance to French colonial rule in North Africa. The events in Bengal referred to are perhaps those of 1907-9, though such manifestations of revolt continued in India in the following year . The weak Persian and Armenian regimes of this period were being bolstered up by the British in efforts to prevent the strengthening of local popular movements or the expansion of Soviet power. A Soviet government was later set up in Armenia in 1921.

3. Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), leading French bourgeois politician. He emerged as a radical during the period of the Paris Commune (1871). In the 1890s he became popular through his part in the case of Dreyfus, defending him along with Zola and Jaurés. As a prominent deputy Clemenceau more than once occasioned the fall of a government with his energetic speeches, being nicknamed ‘the breaker of ministries’. From 1902 he held Cabinet office, for part of the time as Prime Minister. In this office from 1917 to 1920 Clemenceau was hailed as the ‘architect of victory’ and was the leading figure at the Versailles peace conference in 1919. At the same period, he was the inspirer of intervention against Soviet Russia.

4. Details of the struggle over the Red Army’s invasion of Georgia can be found in Volume One, and also in the full text of Between Red and White (1922)

5. 190 Karl Kautsky, the theorist of German Social Democracy, made some of the first Marxists studies of imperialism as early as 1898.However, unlike Lenin, he saw imperialism not as a product of advanced capitalism, but a a result of the activities of pre-industrial, aristocratic, elements. Thus after the outbreak of World War, in a series of articles reprinted in 1915 under the title Die Internationalirdt und der Kreig, Kautsky could envisage the possible disappearance of capitalist wars through the establishment of a system he called super-imperialism, by which international finance capital would exploit the world. This theory ignored the dynamic of imperialism and the conflicts it must inevitably provoke.

6. On Easter weekend, April 1916, the joint forces of the Irish Volunteers, mainly bourgeois nationalists under the leadership of Patrick Pearce, and James Connolly’s Citizen Army of workers, declared a Provisional Government and seized a number of the main buildings in Dublin ‘ including the Post Office which dominates O’Connell Street. After resisting four days bombardment there, the rebels were forced to surrender and fifteen of their leaders were shot. Despite its defeat the Rising was a major step in the war for independence which raged in the subsequent years.

7. Ireland, Germany and the Freedom of the Seas, written 1911 but published 1914 in New York. Republished as Crime Against Europe—Causes of War and Foundation of Peace, Berlin 1915

8. Georgii Plekhanov (1856-1918) founder of Russian Marxism but opponent of the October Revolution. He started Political activity as a Narodnik terrorist, and later the educated the generation of Lenin and Trotsky in the fight for Marxism against Narodnism and Populism. In 1883 he organized the ‘Emancipation of Labour’ group as first cell of Russian Marxism. In Our Differences (1885) he opened the struggle against Narodnism. and in The Development of the Monist View of History (1895) set out the basic principles of Marxist philosophy in Russian for the first time. He worked with Lenin on Iskra for a period; they were in agreement on programmatic questions at the Second Congress of Russian Social Democracy (1903), but not on the principled organizational steps necessary for the development of the Bolshevik Party. Plekhanov degenerated into social patriotism on the outbreak of war, and was bitterly hostile to the bolshevik revolution. After his death he was nonetheless honoured as a pioneer of Marxism (see Trotsky’s Political Profiles.)

9. Georgii Plekhanov (1856-1918) founder of Russian Marxism but opponent of the October Revolution. He started Political activity as a Narodnik terrorist, and later the educated the generation of Lenin and Trotsky in the fight for Marxism against Narodnism and Populism. In 1883 he organized the ‘Emancipation of Labour’ group as first cell of Russian Marxism. In Our Differences (1885) he opened the struggle against Narodnism. and in The Development of the Monist View of History (1895) set out the basic principles of Marxist philosophy in Russian for the first time. He worked with Lenin on Iskra for a period; they were in agreement on programmatic questions at the Second Congress of Russian Social Democracy (1903), but not on the principled organizational steps necessary for the development of the Bolshevik Party. Plekhanov degenerated into social patriotism on the outbreak of war, and was bitterly hostile to the bolshevik revolution. After his death he was nonetheless honoured as a pioneer of Marxism (see Trotsky’s Political Profiles.)

10.In Corneille’s play Cinna (1641), the character in the title is a reluctant party to a conspiracy led by his uncle against the emperor, Augustus. He receives a political pardon.

11. Louis Adolph Thiers (1797-1877) and Gaston Gallifet (1830-1909) were respectively leaders of the political and military forces that suppressed the Paris Commune of 1871. Thiers led the bourgeois government of the day and was the first President of the Third Republic. Gallifet became a general in 1870, and distinguished himself by ordering summary executions of the Communards. He thus became a symbol of counter-revolutionary repression. [In the Civil War in France Marx quotes the English Daily News to describe the shooting of the communards, This passage was written by George M Crawford, the brother of the great grandfather of the transcriber, Ted Crawford.]

12. Jean Racine (1639-99), the French tragedian.

13. The movement for ‘modernization’ under King Amanullah led to sharp social conflicts. The reforms included the abolition of feudal land tenure, and in April 1923 a ‘democratic’ constitution was promulgated. Pro-feudal elements exploited the discontent of the peasantry at these measures with the covert support of British Imperialism and Arnanullah was overthrown in 1929.

14. The Caliphate was the name of the Empire established after the death of the prophet Muhammed in 632 AD. By the twentieth century the title of ‘Caliph’ originally applying to a religious leader, had been taken over by the Sultans of Turkey. It was abolished on 3rd March, 1924 by the bourgeois revolutionary government of Kemal Ataturk.

15. The partition of Bengal in 1905 by the British colonial administration resulted in the intensification of nationalist activity in a number of forms. There was a considerable growth in the organization of the Congress which itself split in 1907 as a result of demands for more militant policies. In April 1908 a terrorist bomb at Muzatarpur killed two English women.

16. Herman Gorter (1864-1927) was a poet and a member of the Dutch Socialist Party, associated with a left-wing group expelled in 1908 that set up the Independent Socialist Party. Together with syndicalists Gorter rallied to the Communist International in 1919 but became a convinced ultra-left, attacking Lenin’s Left Wing Communism in his Open Letter to Comrade Lenin. This extract forms part of Trotsky’s reply.

17. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was the chief leader of Indian nationalism at this period. The tactics of his movement of non-violent ‘civil disobedience’ against the British authorities were part of a constant willingness to compromise with imperialism.

18. L. Kornilov (1870-1920) was a tsarist general who tried unsuccessfully to lead a counter-revolutionary coup against the Provisional Government during 1917. Later he commanded White detachments against the Red Army.

19. The lower level civil servants of tsarist Russia. The word has much the same connotation as the English phrase ‘petty officialdom’.

20. Leo Toistoy (1828-1910) is best remembered today for his great novels, particularly War and Peace. From the 1880s onwards, however, he was famed in Russia as the proponent of a highly individualistic philosophy of Christian anarchism, renouncing property the Church and all forms of violence.

21. Alexander Martinov (1865-1935) was a right-wing Menshevik who opposed the October Revolution and joined the Soviet Communist Party only in 1923. He then became a leading opponent of ‘Trotskyism’, using all his old arguments in favour of the of two stages’ theory of revolutionary development. He was the main theorist of the ‘bloc of four classes’, Stalin’s justification for the betrayal of the Chinese Revolution of 1927. (See The Third International After Lenin, pp. 249-252.)

22. MN Roy was a founder member of the Indian Communist Party in 1924. He became a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International and an agent of Stalin. Broke from Stalin in 1929 as a Right Oppositionist, but eventually became an anti-communist and an enemy of the struggle against imperialism.

23. George Safarov (1891-1938), an old Bolshevik ‘ was in exile with Lenin and returned with him after the February revolution. A specialist in Eastern questions, he carried out a number of missions for the Comintern, of which he was an EC member. A Zinovievist, he was sent to China and then to Turkey where he carried out secret oppositional activity. Disappeared during the purges.

24. Erich Ludendorff (1867-1937) was a member of the aristocratic Prussian officer corps and the commander of the German army during the last years of the First World War. He was also an early supporter of Hitler.

25. Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919), founder of the German Communist movement and son of the co-founder of the German Social-Democratic Party. Before the First World War he was an active opponent of militarism and was imprisoned for his agitation. In 1914 he, together with Luxemburg, Mehring and Zetkin publicly opposed the Social-Democratic Party’s official support for the war. In 1915 he began to organize the Spartacus League and when the International Socialist Conference was held that year at Zimmerwald to formulate a policy of opposition to the war, he wrote from the army where he had been conscripted ‘Not civil peace but civil war—that is our slogan’. He was expelled from the Social-Democratic parliamentary group in 1916 and was imprisoned for anti-war agitation the same year. Greatly inspired by the Russian revolution and freed from prison by the 1918 revolution he led the struggle against the Social-Democrats and the Independents and for the immediate and unconditional transfer of state power to the Soviets formed in the revolution. He led the Berlin uprising of January 1919 and on its suppression by Scheidemann, Ebert and Noske he was arrested and assassinated by a squad of counter-revolutionary officers given free rein by Ebert and Noske.

26. The experience of the Chinese Revolution of 1925-1927 is of the most direct significance for India. I heartily recommend to the Indian revolutionists Harold Isacs’ excellent book, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution—LDT.

27. The Vietnamese Trotskyist movement was established in 1933 and its leaders included Ta Thu Thau and Tran Van Trach. During the 1930s they held seats on the Saigon municipal council and in 1939 won a majority of votes on the Cochin Chinese Colonial Council. In 1945 Ta, Tran and other leaders of the movement were murdered by the Stalinists when they led mass strikes and demonstrations against the return of French imperialist rule which the Stalinists were advocating.

28. Established in 1933 by various participants in the Indian nationalist movement including the pro-Stalinist J. Narayan and the former British Labour Party member, M. R. Masani. It worked in the so-called United Front with the Indian CP from 1937 to 1940, but eventually expelled all its CP members and moved to the right as the main bourgeois party in India.

29. Leaders of the petty-bourgeois revisionist tendency in the Socialist Workers Party at this time, who denied the need to defend the Soviet Union against imperialism. Trotsky’s struggle against them is documented in In Defence of Marxism. Shachtman later became a social democrat and Burnham a cold war reactionary.

30. These were the leading parties of bourgeois nationalism in the Indian sub-continent in this period. The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 to demand reforms, only gradually taking up the aim of national independence. The Muslim League was set up at Dacca in 1906 on the grounds that the Congress catered exclusively for the interests of Hindus. It also eventually came round to supporting national independence, which it thought could only be safeguarded by establishing a separate state for Muslims. The two organizations thus became the basis for the ruling parties of the states of India and Pakistan.

31. One of the measures of the bourgeois nationalist President of Mexico from 1934, Lazaro Cardenas. After land reforms, railway nationalization and various measures restricting the oil companies, in March 1938 the Cardenas government took over control of the property of all British and American oil companies. In retaliation the United States discontinued silver payments and the British broke off diplomatic relations. The measures, essential to the protectionist policies by which the Mexican bourgeoisie was attempting to survive the slump, had widespread support among the mass of workers and peasants.

32. Right wing Mexican general, provincial governor and minister in the Cardenas government, against which he led an abortive coup in 1938, losing his life in the course of it.

33. In 1823 President James Monroe of the United States announced in the wake of the South American Wars of Independence that his government would not allow any future outside interference in the affairs of any American state. This prohibition, which was frequently cited in justification of US policies during the nineteenth century, was never of course deemed to apply to the US themselves.

34. This address, drafted by Marx, was sent to Lincoln in November 1864, on the occasion of his re-election as President and shortly before the end of the Civil War and his assassination. It denounced ‘the Confederate gentry’ and described their ‘slaveholders’ rebellion’ as ‘a general holy crusade of property against labour’. The reply, which was received in January 1865 through the American embassy in London, said that Lincoln hoped he would he worthy of ‘the confidence which has recently been extended to him by the friends of humanity and progress throughout the world.’

35. The defence of China against the predatory assaults of Japanese imperialism. The Japanese invaded the province of Manchuria in 1931 and established a puppet state there. In 1935 further areas were taken over, and by 1938, when this was written, Japan exercised effective control over much of Northern China and was in a position to enforce the penetration of all sections of the Chinese economy under the Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-Shek.

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