1. Letter to the Communist League of Struggle—L.D. Trotsky
2. On the Labor Party Question in America—L.D. Trotsky
3. Our reply to Comrade Trotsky
TROTSKY ON THE AMERICAN SITUATION AND THE COMMUNIST LEAGUE OF STRUGGLE
Letter to the Communist League of Struggle
Your organization on its own initiative has delegated you to get an exchange of views on questions, which separate you from the American League which is the section of the International Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists). In the course of several talks you have explained the opinions of your organization over the fundamental litigious questions. You have proposed that I put down in writing my conclusions from the talks which we have had. In the following lines, I shall try to do this without pretending in any way to exhaust the questions raised by you.
1. I am inclined to consider as the most important question the question of the “Labor Party". Here it is a question of the essential instrument of the proletarian revolution. Every lack of clarity or ambiguity on that question is pernicious. The ideas developed by you for the defense of the slogan of the “Labor party”, I have criticized in a special document which I have given you. Here I deem it necessary to add only several words.
On the question of the Labor Party your organization is very near to the position of Lovestone, which is notoriously opportunistic. The Lovestone group is consistent in its denial of the independent historic role of the Communist Party. That group approves up to today the policy of the Comintern in regard to the Kuomintang and the British Trade Unions; that is to say, the capitulation in principle of Communism in the one case before the bourgeoisie and in the other case before the lieutenants of the bourgeoisie within the working class.
Your group, as far as I know, condemns the politics of the Stalinists in China and in Great Britain, but at the same time, it accepts the slogan of the Labor Party. That is to say: In taking or trying to take a Marxist position towards the past events in other countries, you take an opportunist position toward the future of your own country. I believe that without a radical revision of your position in the central question of the party, an effective re-approchement between your organization and the International Left Opposition cannot be affected.
2. Your group has rejected up to the present the definition accepted by us of the International Stalinist fraction as Bureaucratic Centrism. You start out from the view that one can give the name “centrism” only to those groupings which occupy the place between the official camp of reformism (Social-Democracy) and the official camp of Communism. Under this purely formalist, schematic, undialectical conception of centrism is hidden in fact a lack of clarity of the political position of your own group. You are concerned to efface the difference between the official party, the right wing fraction (Lovestone group) and even the American League. This makes it easy for you to remain in an eclectic position and defends your right of a bloc with the Lovestone group.
That the Lovestone group does not represent a purely reformist organization is incontestable, but the question is in its variety of right-wing centrism, which is evolving from Communism to Social-Democracy. The German Socialist Labor Party (S.A.P.), which broke from the Social-Democracy, contains a more progressive tendency than the Brandlerites although according to the theoretical formulas the last are apparently nearer to us. Statistically, the Lovestone group, the German Brandleriter are all as the S.A.P. represent varieties of right-wing centrism. But dynamically one is different from the other and it is the dynamics which decides.
Certainly, in a number of partial questions, the Lovestone group has taken a position more correct than the official party but to conclude a bloc with the Lovestone group would mean to augment its general authority and by that to help it to fulfill its reactionary historic mission.
I shall not stop here to go into more details on the question of centrism. I permit myself to refer you to my last brochure which will soon appear in America (What Next?).
Without clarity in this most essential question in my opinion a reapproachment between your fraction and the International Left Opposition can not be achieved.
3. Your criticism of the American League starts to a considerable degree from wrong premises (the most important of which are given above). At the same time, you give to your criticism a character so immoderate, exaggerated and embittered that it forces us to see in you an ideological nuance not in the camp of the International Left Opposition, but of the adversaries if not of the direct enemies.
Upon the basis of criteria, which are partly false, partly insufficient and arbitrary, you deny, as I have said, the existence of differences in principle between the American League, the Lovestone group and the official party. With this you declare not only that the leadership of the League is classed in an opportunist position but incapable of distinguishing between Marxism and opportunism on a most essential question. Is it that you are astonished after that that the Bolshevik-Leninists demand what binds you to the International Left Opposition?
4. You stress with special energy the necessity of active participation on the part of the Left Opposition in general in the movement and the struggle of the working masses. Although at the present stage, the Left Opposition is, in the majority of countries, a propagandist organization, it puts forth propaganda not in a sectarian but in a Marxist manner, that is to say upon the basis of participation in all the life of the proletariat I am not able to admit that anyone of the leaders or of the members of the American League denies this principle. The question reduces itself to a great extent to the real possibility to which pertains also natural capacity, experience and initiative.
Let us admit, for a minute, that the American League lacks this or that possibility in mass work. I am ready to admit that your group would be able in that respect to complete the work of the American League. But mass work must be on the basis of definite principles and methods. Until the time that, in a number of fundamental questions a necessary unanimity will be attained disputes on “mass work” will inevitably remain lifeless.
5. Above, I have called the position of your group eclectic. By this I do not wish at all to express any condemnation as a whole which bars the possibility of a future reapproachment. The question is here also decided dynamically. You must openly, clearly, and attentively revise your baggage so as to take care to uncover by that not only your manifest political faults, but also the historical and principled roots of these faults. I have reacted with much warm praise to the thesis of the Second conference of the American League on the Labor Party because in this thesis there was taken not only a correct position in the essence of the question, but also there was given an open and courageous criticism of its own past. Only in this way can a revolutionary tendency assure itself seriously against a relapse.
6. Your group has raised up the slogan of an international conference with the participation of all the organizations and groups who count themselves with the Left. This way presents itself to me to be false to the roots. The International Left Opposition does not exist for the first day. In the struggle for its ideas and methods it has purified its ranks of foreign elements. The international conference can and must start from the ideological work already accomplished and to fortify its results and to systematize them. To enter on the road which was proposed by your group would mean to make a crest over the past and to return to the state of original chaos. Of that we cannot even speak.
The Left Opposition is not a mechanical sum of vacillating groups, but an international fraction erected on the granite basis of the principles of Marxism. A reapproachment and a fusion with the International Left Opposition is not able to be obtained through organizational manipulations or through adventurist combinations a la Landau. I was glad to hear from you that your group has nothing in common with Landau and his methods. Precisely for this reason, it is necessary to renounce once and for all the thoughts of transforming the International Left Opposition into a Noah’s Ark. It is necessary to choose another road less precipitated, but more serious and certain.
Before everything you must keep clearly in mind that the road to the International Left Opposition leads through the American League; a second road does not exist: Unification with the American League is possible only on the basis of unity of principles and methods which must be formulated theoretically and verified by experience.
The best thing would be, in my opinion, if you would devote a coming issue of your organ to a critical revision of your ideological baggage especially in regard to the litigious questions. Only the character of this revision (before all naturally its content but partially also its form) can demonstrate just to what degree the practical steps on the side of unification are really ripe.
The most important extracts of your articles could be printed in the International Bulletin as information material. Naturally the question will be decided by the American League. But all our sections will want to be informed. Not one of them will demand any concessions in principle from the American League. But, however, all of them will cooperate completely in the cause of a reapproachment and fusion if the existence of a common basis of principle will be confirmed.
It is not necessary to say that I shall be very glad if your trip here and our discussions will contribute to the going over of your group to the camp of the Bolshevik-Leninists.
May 22, 1932
POSTSCRIPT TO THE LETTER TO COMRADE WEISBORD
For the sake of better clarity I wish to add some remarks:
1. If I speak about the inadvisability of direct or indirect support of the Lovestone group of the Brandlerites in general I do not wish at all to say by that that these elements could not, under any circumstances, find for themselves a place in the Communist ranks. On the contrary, under a healthy regime of the Comintern the majority of the Brandlerites would have executed, without doubt, this or that useful work. One of the pernicious consequences of the Stalinist bureaucracy consists in this that it is compelled by each new empiric zig-zag under fear of its own collapse to push out of the party its allies of yesterday.
Zinoviev and Kamenoff represent highly qualified elements. Under the regime of Lenin they accomplished very responsible work in spite of their insufficiency which was well understood by Lenin. The regime of Stalin condemned Zinoviev and Kameneff to political death. The same thing can be said of Bucharin and many others. the ideological and moral decomposition of Radek is witness not only of the fact that Radek is not made of first class material but also of the fact that the Stalinist regime can rely only upon impersonal chinovniks or morally decomposed individuals.
However, it is necessary to take facts as they are in reality. The Brandlerites, chased out of the Comintern, and their worst section (the Lovestone group) have proved themselves condemned to political degeneration. Their ideological resources are zero. Masses they have not and cannot have. As an independent group, they are capable only of bringing confusion and decomposition. The sooner they will be liquidated the better. Which part of them will be transformed by this into Stalinist Chinovniks and which into Social-Democrats it is a matter of indifference.
2. The remark made above that the S.A.P. contains elements more progressive than the Brandlerites must in no case be submitted to an enlarged interpretation. About a political bloc between the Left Opposition and the S.A.P. with its actual obvious centrist leadership one cannot even speak. The progressive tendencies within the S.A.P. can be uncovered only by our implacable criticism against the leadership of the S.A.P. and also against the old Brandlerites, who are under it and who play within the S.A.P. a manifestly reactionary role.
We cannot put your American Left Socialists at all on the same plane even with the centrist leaders of the S.A.P. who at least have broken with Social-Democracy. By a correct policy of the Communist Party, the S.A.P., before its disintegration, could become a previous auxiliary instrument for the decomposition of Social-Democracy. As for the American Left Socialists we do not have the least reason to distinguish them from Hilquit that is to say to see in them anything else than agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class.
3. In the question of the labor Party you refer to the decision of the Fourth Congress. The Left Opposition stands entirely on the basis of the decisions of the first fourth congresses but distinguishes the decisions of principles and program from tactical and episodic decisions. The decision of the Fourth Congress on that question could be only a tactical hypothesis. After that the hypothesis was submitted to a gigantic test. The Left Opposition grew, in a certain sense, from that test. The fault of your group consists precisely in that you ignore the work of the Left Opposition in this fundamental question.
4. The same thing applies to the question of Centrism. You refer to Lenin. But the task does not consist to refer in this or that quotation from Lenin, which is concerned with other times and other conditions, but to use correctly the method of Lenin. In Lenin you do not find, naturally, anything about bureaucratic centrism because the Stalinist fraction was formed politically after the death of Lenin. In the struggle with this fraction the International Left Opposition grew. Also in this question, you ignore its critical activity.
I do not wish to say at all that your group defended in the past the unworthy methods of the Landau group. However, you are in error in thinking that this question is an internal question of the Left Opposition. The Left Opposition does not have and cannot have anything in common with the Landau group as well as with all those who support that group.
May 24, 1932
ON THE LABOR PARTY QUESTION IN AMERICA
By L. D. Trotsky
I reread the theses of the Second Conference of the American League concerning the question of the Labor Party. I find it excellent in every part and I sign it with both hands. I find it necessary to emphasize my full agreement with these all the more as my interview to the New York Times of March 1932 gave rise to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation, especially from the part of the Lovestone group.
1. What was my idea about the “Labor Party” in that statement? I affirmed that American politics will be Europeanized in the sense that the inevitable and imminent development of a party of the working class will totally change the political face of the U.S. This is a common place for a Marxist. The question was not of a “Labor Party” in the specific English sense of that word, but in the general European sense without designating what form such a party would take or what phases it would pass through. There was not the slightest necessity in this interview to enter into the internal tactical differences within the Communist ranks. The translation of my interview from the Russian text which employs the words, “Rabochaya partia” into the english was defective in that it permitted one to get a concrete and specific interpretation of what should have been general.
2. One can declare that even the general term “Party of the working class”, does not exclude a “Labor Party”, in the English sense. Be that as it may. However, such an eventuality has nothing to do with a precise tactical question. We can admit hypothetically that the American trade union bureaucracy will be forced in certain historical conditions, to imitate the British trade union bureaucracy in creating a kind of party based upon the trade unions. But that eventuality, which appears to me to be very problematical, does not constitute an aim for which the Communists must strive and on which one must concentrate the attention of the proletarian vanguard.
3. A long period of confusion in the Comintern led many people to forget a very simple but absolutely irrevocable principle that a Marxist, a proletarian revolutionist, cannot present himself before the working class with two banners. He cannot say at a workers meeting: I have tickets for a first class party and other tickets cheaper for the stupid ones. If I am a Communist I must fight for the Communist Party.
4. One can affirm that under the American conditions a “Labor Party” in the British sense would be a progressive step and by recognizing this and stating so, we ourselves, even though indirectly, help to establish such a party. But that is precisely the reason I will never assume the responsibility to affirm abstractly and dogmatically that the creation of a “Labor Party” would be a “progressive step” even in the United States because I do not know under what circumstances, under what guidance, and for what purposes that party would be created. It seems to me more probable that especially in America, which does not possess any important tradition of independent political action by the working class (as Chartism in England, for example) and where the trade union bureaucracy is more reactionary and corrupt than it was in the height of the British Empire. The creation of a “Labor Party” in America could be provoked only by a mighty revolutionary pressure of the working masses and by the growing threat of Communism. It is absolutely clear that under these conditions the Labor Party would signify not a progressive step but a hindrance to the progressive evolution of the working class.
5. In what form the party of the working class will become a genuine mass party in the United States in the immediate future we cannot prophesy because the Socialist and “Labor” Parties are very different in different countries even in Europe. In Belgium, for example, we see an intermediary sort of party arise. Certainly the phases of development of the proletarian party in America will be sui generis (unique). We can only affirm with the greatest assurance: Especially since the United States, in the period from 1921-1924 has had already an important rehearsal in the creation of a “Labor” or “Farmer-Labor” Party a resurrection of a similar movement cannot be a simple repetition of that experience, but a far more pregnant and more crystallized movement i.e., either under the guidance of the revolutionary Communist Party or under the guidance of reformist elements against the growing Communist Party. And if even in 1921-1924, the Communist Party did not find great possibilities for independent action inside the organization of an inchoate “Labor Party”, it would have less possibility in the new phase of an analogous movement.
6. One can imagine that the trade union bureaucracy and its Socialist and left democratic advisers may show themselves to be more perspicacious and begin the formation of a “Labor Party” before the revolutionary movement becomes too threatening. In view of the groping imperialism and provincial narrowness of the American labor bureaucracy and aristocracy of labor such perspicacity seems very improbable. The failure of such an attempt in the past shows us that the bureaucracy, so tenacious in its immediate aims, is absolutely incapable of a systematic political action on a great scale even in the interest of capitalist society. The bureaucracy must receive a blow on the skull for such a “radical” initiative. However, if the creation of a “Labor Party” would prevent, in a certain period, the large success of Communism, our elementary duty must be not to proclaim the progressiveness of the “Labor Party”, but its insufficiency, ambiguity, and limitations, and its historical role as a hindrance to the proletarian revolution.
7. Must we join that “Labor Party” or remain outside? This is no more a question of principle, but of circumstances and possibilities. The question itself has arisen from the experience of the British Communists and the “Labor Party”, and that experience has served far more the “Labor Party” than the Communists. It is evident that the possibility of participating in and of utilizing a “Labor Party” movement would be greater in the period of its inception, that is, in the period when the part is not a party but an amorphic politic mass movement. That we must participate in it at that time and with the greatest energy is without question, but not to help form a “Labor Party”, which will exclude us and fight against us but to push the progressive elements of the movement more and more to the left by our activity and propaganda. I know this seems too simple for the new great school which searches in every way for a method to jump over its feeble head.
8. To consider a “Labor Party” as an integrated series of united fronts signifies a misunderstanding of the notions, both of united fronts and of the party. The united front is determined by concrete circumstances and for concrete aims. The Party is permanent. By a united front, we reserve for ourselves a free hand to break with our temporary allies. In a common party with these allies, we are bound by discipline and even by the fact of the party itself. The experience of the Kuomintang and of the Anglo-Russian Committee must be well understood. The strategic line dictated by the lack of spirit of independence of the Communist Party and by the desire to enter into the “big” party (Kuomintang, “Labor Party") produced inevitably all the consequences of opportunistic adaptation to the will of the allies and through them to the enemies. We must educate our comrades in the belief in the invincibility of the Communist idea and in the future of the Communist Party. The parallel struggle for another party produces inevitably in their minds a duality and drives them on the road of opportunism.
9. The policy of the united front has not only its great disadvantages but its limits and its dangers. The united front even in the form of temporary blocs often impels one to opportunistic deviations frequently fatal as for example Brandler in 1923. That danger becomes absolutely overwhelming in a situation when the so-called Communist Party becomes a part of a “Labor Party” created by the grace of the propaganda and action of the Communist Party itself.
10. That the Labor Party can become an arena of our successful struggle and that the Labor Party created as a barrier to Communism can, under certain circumstances, strengthen the Communist Party is true, but only under the condition that we consider the Labor Party not as “our” party, but as an arena in which we are acting as an absolutely independent Communist Party.
11. All the resolutions about the British Labor Party must be taken into consideration not as they were written before the experiences of the Comintern and the British Communist Party in that regard, but in the light of that experience. The attempt mechanically to apply them now in 1932 to the American conditions is characteristic of the epigones’ mind and has nothing to do with Marxism and Leninism.
12. It is not necessary to say that the idea of a Farmer-Labor Party is a treacherous mockery of Marxism.
OUR REPLY TO COMRADE TROTSKY
The Communist League of Struggle has carefully considered your last letter to our organization. In considering this letter we also had before us the report of our representative, Comrade Albert Weisbord, who has just returned from his visit to you and to the various sections of the Left Opposition.
We are very happy to note that friendlier relations have been able to be established and we feel that much misunderstanding has been wiped away and a practical basis laid for the entrance of our organization into the Left Opposition through unification with the Communist League of America.
Your new letter has, first of all, cleared the ground of a good deal of matter that stood in the way of our mutual coming-together and has taken an entirely different approach to us. No longer are our views so misunderstood that we are charged with deriding publishing work or opposing mass action to propaganda. No longer is the charge made that we are connected with Landau in Europe or with Lovestone in America or that we did not sincerely want unity with the American League. In this respect we are also happy to note that many of the reasons given by the leaders of the American League against us have been ignored by you and thus tacitly repudiated. No longer, for example, is the charge made that we want to help Ghandi in India, that we are opportunist on the question of China, that we belong with Paz, (who has now, we hear, joined the Socialist Party) etc. Quite the contrary, we are glad to learn that though the top leaders of the American League aided people who wrecked our headquarters and stole our library and documents and even now welcome these wreckers at their meetings, and though one of these leaders had declared that only the rope could be the medium between us and that we acted in direct opposition to your first letter to us that a bridge should be built between our two organizations) as agents blowing the whistle for the police, you have welcomed our representative and in your letter opened the door for entrance into the Left Opposition. On our part we shall do all we can to join forces with the Left Opposition.
First of all we wish to admit that on the question of the Labor Party, we made a serious error in that our group had declared in its general thesis: “The Communists at this time especially must not drop the slogan of a Labor Party.”
Our error was serious in that in calling for the formation of the Labor Party we were making the same error, in a sense, as the Right Wing and the Comintern had made in the various adventures in which it had denied the legitimate role of the Party and had acted as coolies for the reformists.
Our group had taken the following position:
1. “The Europeanization of American politics must bring about an inevitable and imminent development of a mass party of workers destined to change the political face of the United States. Historically, such a mass party has taken three forms, namely, a Socialist Party, a Communist Party, and a Labor Party. The question now arises, What form is probable as the next step in the political history of the working class in the United States, where there is at present no mass Socialist Party or Communist Party and where as yet the Labor Party does not exist?”
2. “There is no question that the great sharpening of the inner and outer contradictions of American capitalism gives the basis for a tenseness of relationships, a restiveness of the masses, which can enable both Communists and Socialists to grow greatly. It is a fact, however, that despite the great and unprecedented severity of the crisis and of its effects, the American working masses have fought shy of both these parties or have not been effectively reached by them. Such a growth of a revolutionary Communist Party is certainly not out of the question, This depends both on the sharpening of the capitalist contradictions and the policy of the Communists—nor is the formation of a Labor Party inevitable. Nevertheless the existing situation is such that the American workers will be compelled to take independent political action of their own so as to try to counterpoise their class interests to those of the bourgeoisie and to strive to ameliorate their conditions. That such political action may very likely take the form of a labor Party can be seen by the great movement for a Labor Party which sprung up after the last crisis in the United States in 1921.”
3. “The formation of a Labor Party at the present time would mark a great step forward for the American working class. This is true precisely because the present situation shows it would be formed not due primarily to the great growth of Communism in America, which the employers fear and wish to forestall, but primarily as a symptom of the beginning left-ward drift of the masses, who are still illusioned by democracy and still misled by reformists and who form a separate Labor Party despite the bourgeoisie. Entirely different from a Socialist Party, the Labor Party in its inception is really not a Party at all but an amorphic mass movement. In fact, the Labor Party, in one sense, can be conceived as an integrated series of united fronts by which the masses launch their own independent struggle against the bourgeoisie on every day concrete questions. The Labor Party although serving as a barrier to Communism yet under the present circumstances sets the masses against the will of its reformist leaders, on the road to overcoming those very barriers of reformism. This amorphic political mass movement called the Labor Party serves as an arena within which the Communists can wrest the masses from the reformists.”
Where we made our error was in concluding from these premises, the general line of which we still hold to be correct, that it was necessary for the Communists to help organize that Labor Party. What we failed to realize was that the Labor Party was an amorphous mass movement that rapidly became a PARTY, reformist and dual to the Communist. We failed to understand that all united fronts created by us must be specific and definite, while a Labor Party is a PERMANENT organization with aims that vary, an organization that to the masses carries an entirely different meaning than ordinary united front. In this respect your recent article on the Labor Party question has proved of great value in correcting these errors in the position of the Communist League of Struggle.
It is no more the task of the American Communists to organize a petty-bourgeois Party standing between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in the form of a Labor Party, than it would have been for the Chinese communists to have helped organize the Kuomintang in China. The Kuomintang also symbolized the Europeanization of politics—Chinese politics—and it also historically marked a progressive step forward for the Chinese masses and provided an arena for Communism (as indeed it might be conceived that even the creation of a Socialist Party might do in some countries) yet history has decisively shown us what criminality it would be if the formation of such a Kuomintang (or hypothetical Socialist Party) were due to the actions and propaganda of the Communists themselves.
A party exists for the seizure of power. Every worker knows that. To ask him to organize a Labor Party is inevitably to give him the conception that the Labor Party is the instrument for seizure of power. Such a conception paves the way for all the monstrous crimes committed by Stalinism and the Right Wing.
However, we must declare that in your letter to us, we believe you have criticized us too severely. You must know that for over two years, up to very recently, the Communist League of America also had the same slogans as we did on the Labor Party question, changing its thesis only at its last national conference. Yet, all that time, the Labor Party question was not considered a decisive one, capable of barring a group from the left opposition and it was not, therefore, because of this question that the Communist League of America or the International Secretariat at first rejected collaboration with us. For the first time, then, through your letter to us, we have learned that you considered this question a decisive one.
In respect to this matter of “decisive questions” permit us to add that there are other questions, which we consider decisive and which you should put to the American League. To mention only two of these questions: Is it not “decisive” that on such a burning question in the United States, as the Negro question, the American League now for close to four years has taken no official position, taking the ground it must “study the question”, (great consolation to the struggling Negro masses)?
Certainly all questions can be “decisive” once they are developed and expanded upon and brought into general relation with the general theoretical program of the organization. But what must be kept in mind in relation to the Labor Party question in America is:
1. There was no large scale movement for a Labor Party actually being organized and that our error therefore was concerning a contingency rather than an actuality and this made it easier for us to fall into error.
2. It was never the position of the Communist League of Struggle to behave even remotely as Stalin in acting as the coolie for the Kuomintang. We have constantly stressed the necessity and historic independent role of the Communist Party. It was our intention to utilize the Labor Party movement for the building up of a strong Communist Party that would soon liquidate and make antiquated the Labor Party rather than that we should become subordinate to it. We never had the theory that “hand in hand with the Kuomintang”, (or Labor Party) we would accomplish the revolution. For us the Labor Party was no substitute for a Communist Party. Rather have we constantly stressed that only by a relentless fight against the opportunism embodied in a Labor Party would the workers be able to cross over the bridge the Labor Party offered them, and move to the Proletarian Revolution.
However, since the Labor Party was not actually formed we were not able to show in practice how entirely different our whole conception and action was from that of the Right Wing.
Finally we must declare our confusion on the question of the Labor Party was also due to the fact that the Comintern in the time of Lenin had taken a position similar to ours, not only in regard to Great Britain, but specifically and concretely in regard to America and the American Labor Party. In the light of these specific decisions of the fourth Congress of the Communist International, which we believed correct, we felt we could not change our views at least without a long and thorough discussion with the leading sections of the International Left Opposition, which we have only just now had the opportunity to have. We cannot be condemned for being late in revising our views whey you, yourself, have only recently written on the subject, not having mentioned it even in your first letter to us.
We cannot leave this important question of the Labor Party without calling attention to several errors in the position of the Communist League of America. The American League, in its last thesis, has declared that the question of a Labor Party has less of a timely significance than in the past. How can this position be reconciled with your opinion that the question of the Labor Party has now become decisive for the American groups adhering to the Left Opposition? Does the American League believe that the Europeanization of American politics, which you have stressed as imminent, will take only the form of mass Socialist and Communist Parties as in Germany? Such an analysis is far from a realistic appreciation of the American situation at the present time and is far from being born out by the facts. The Communist League of Struggle wishes here to reiterate its view that far from being less important the Labor Party question will tend to become ever more and more important in the ranks of the working class.
You declare in your statement on the Labor Party question that you cannot affirm that the creation of a Labor Party would be a progressive step in the United States because you do not know under what circumstances such a party would be created. It is also our position as well as yours that even if it were objectively a progressive step it is not our duty to help organize such a party, or proclaim its progressiveness, but on the contrary, its insufficiency, ambiguity and limitedness and its historical role as a hindrance to the proletarian revolution.
Nevertheless the question goes deeper than a tactical one. The question stands: In what historical period in American politics are we in America at the present time? You imply that the mere probable perspective in America is the huge growth of a Communist Party putting such pressure on the employing class that the Labor Party would be organized by capitalist elements solely as a weapon against the Communist Party.
We believe such an analysis is not correct. Certainly there are great possibilities, never utilized by the Stalinists, for the large growth of the Communist Party, in the United States, but certainly also in the light of present day facts and conditions in America, we cannot agree that the most probable perspective to which we can turn is that the Labor Party, like the Zubatov Unions under the Czar, will be organized mainly as a deliberate move against Communism. As we see American conditions today (tomorrow may compel another analysis based on new world events), we can declare that out of the great complex of social forces leading to the formation of a Labor Party, the primary leading force will be the movement of the working class to the left on the road of independent political class action against the capitalists and even if such a movement were to have in it capitalist elements who are primarily concerned in utilizing the Labor Party against Communism and even if those conscious anti-communist elements were dominant, the Labor Party movement itself would be unleashing those very forces destined to overthrow all anti-Communist plans. To conceive of the Labor Party primarily as a movement carefully controlled by capitalists and formed to meet the menace of Communism rather than primarily as a spontaneous movement of the workers against the capitalists is to distort the picture. Taking such a view, we believe it was incorrect for the American League to make it merely an “open question”, whether, under such circumstances the Communists should participate and work within the Labor Party.
Of course, as the Labor Party is not organized yet in America, this is music of the future. Yet, we wish to call to your attention that the American League has taken an un-Leninist position on the whole question of the united front, even though on the Labor Party question the American League did reach a correct conclusion. We have, for example, reported to you how, contrary to your opinion, the American League failed to send delegates to general united front meetings called by labor organizations outside the Communist Party and how it failed to organize united fronts where possible. If we have erred on the Labor Party question, it was also because we zealously wished that the Left Opposition in America actively participate in the life of the American working class and enter into all its concrete battles.
On the general question of Centrism, we feel that our differences are not very great and in some respects are only of a formal character. In giving the name “centrism” only to those groupings which occupy the place between the official camps of reformism (social democracy) and the official camp of Communism, we have used the term precisely as Lenin used it. However, here the whole question seems to be one of name and we do not wish to quarrel over that.
What we emphatically deny is the implications in your statement that, “We were concerned to efface the difference between the official Party, the right wing fraction (Lovestone group) and even the American League”, and the further statement, “This makes it easy for you to remain in an eclectic position and defend your right of a bloc with the Lovestone group.”
First of all, it is not true that we do not distinguish between the Right Wing and the Party. We consider ourselves a fraction of the PARTY and not of the Right Wing. In the very beginning of the organization of our tendency, in January, 1931, in his debate with one of the American League, our representative declared:
“It is true there is a difference between the Communist Party (Stalin-Browder-Foster faction) and the Communist Party (Majority group) (Bucharin-Brandler-Lovestone faction). These differences can be summarized broadly as follows: 1. The “official Communist Party” has more members, more good militant fighters, who must be won over, has more influence in the radical movement, etc. 2. The opportunism of the Communist Party takes on a different form from that of the C.P. (majority group). 3. The tempo of development of their opportunism differs. These differences the Communist League (Opposition) must take into consideration. Its tactics must be to stress the winning of the ranks and file of the communist Party for there are the principle ranks of the militants today.”
What we wish to affirm is that Stalinism, or “Bureaucratic Centrism” is also on the whole a form of centrism that is to the right of Leninism, in spite of ultra-left zig-zags, and is moving toward Reformism. The fact that Stalinism rests upon the Soviet Bureaucracy still tied to the workers by the frame of the proletarian revolution in the Soviet Union means that on the one hand this centrism has a more permanent base than the ordinary forms of centrism, which are by their very nature ephemeral and transient, and that, on the other hand, it will be a tendency capable at moments of yielding to the pressure of the working class and thus having left ward zig-zag peculiarities.
If we ask whether Bureaucratic Centrism is more to the right or to the left of the Right Wing, our answer must depend on a concrete analysis of the given time and place and set of circumstances and not on an abstract generality. Certainly it would be most mechanical and formalistic to declare, as the American League has done, that everywhere Stalinism is a tendency between us and the Right Wing. The problem is not quite the same in Sweden as in Russia, in Germany as in America. A dialectical approach to this question must be a concrete one.
In regard to the question whether the Right Wing of communism is dynamically further away from Marxism than Left Socialism this depends on concrete circumstances in which we must examine: a) the direction, b) the tempo, c) the distance covered by the different groups, on the roads which they have elected to travel. You, yourself, declare that under a normal regime in the Comintern, Right Wing Communists would not be expelled from the Communist Party, and it is a moot point to be determined concretely whether the fact of the expulsion of the Right Wing, etc. has forced it into such a position that it can no longer be taken back into a Communist Party or considered nearer to us than Socialists.
And here we must energetically emphasize the fact that we have never proposed a BLOC with the Right wing (Lovestonites), meaning by a bloc a general vague alliance. In our general thesis we wrote: “In the meantime the Communist League of Struggle must try to affect a united front so that all Communist groups can work together on concrete issues on the basis of the recognition of the Communist character of each group. This will also help to re-establish mass work, to resist the violent tactics of the party officialdom, and to place the Communist groups on a correct path.”
When, some time later, Lovestone issued a call for “Communist Unity”, we replied (Class Struggle Vol II #4, April, 1932), “But first of all we want to ask Lovestone, FOR WHAT do you want to unite? To fight the organization of the unorganized as you are doing everywhere? To destroy the new unions such as the textile? Is it for this that you want to unite?….Are you not like Kautsky and the other opportunists in your shouts for unity without specifying on what program and on what basis?…”
Is it not clear, from these quotations, that in our struggle against the terrible disintegration taking place within the ranks of the Communists, that we proposed a united front not with the Right wing alone but with all Communist groups, and not a general vague alliance, but only on specified concrete questions?
Further it is recognized by everyone here that in a number of instances we alone actually fought against the Right Wing when the Communist League of America was not even present.
We are in accord with you when you write, “To conclude a bloc with the Lovestone group would mean to augment its general authority and by that to help it to fulfill its reactionary historic mission.” We are also of the opinion that it is not for us to raise into prominence the question of a united front with an organization such as the Right Wing, which in America is barren and without masses. However, it is quite possible that circumstances may arise where it will be advantageous for us to form a united front including the Right Wing even where the Party refuses to join or even fights it. Here again it is the concrete circumstances that decide. The fact that the Communist League of America finally was forced to organize such a united front (Marine case) is proof of the correctness of our position.
In our general thesis we have declared that the Communist League of America also was a right wing organization. We reached this conclusion on the basis of its first thesis and actions. Since the time of our criticism the Communist League of America has made some steps in correcting its past errors, but its general practice, its methods of correction, its last general thesis, its present unprincipled internal factional fight, etc., show that it has a long way yet to go really to deserve being part of the International Left Opposition.
We wish to raise the general question: Is it impossible for a group to agree to certain formulae of the Left Opposition and yet fill these formulae with such a Right Wing content as to nullify them? Such a situation can readily result from the present general weakness of the Left Opposition. Under such conditions it is quite possible for groups to sign general international declarations and yet annul them in their national practice.
It is not correct to say that our serious charges against the leadership of the Communist League of America, which we believe are based on facts and which we stand ready to prove when necessary, and our criticism of the Communist League of America made us an enemy of the International Left Opposition. Quite the contrary, it was because we wished to further the interests of the International Left Opposition that we have made this criticism. Certainly Comrade Trotsky, you must recognize that without a congress, without a strong and authoritative political bureau, the International Left Opposition has not pressed its sections sufficiently to carry into effect its principles that the sections must behave as Communist sections in the struggles of the workers, and that propaganda must be put forth not in a sectarian manner but on the basis of active participation in the entire life of the proletariat.
In this respect permit us to state that we have endorsed the organizational statutes worked out by our representative, Comrade Weisbord, during his discussions with you and that we are sending you further a special report on the condition of the sections of the International Left Opposition embodying certain recommendations that we believe can aid the situation.
Finally we must declare the actions of the Communist League of America have materially contributed to the sharpness of our criticism. Our collaboration has been steadily rejected, no aid given us when our class enemies attacked us, we have been ridiculed in a most vulgar and low manner, our headquarters have been raided and partially wrecked, we have been denounced as agents for the police, etc. Do you believe we could reply to these provocations without sharpness? On the other hand, never have we taken a sharp tone to the views of the International Left Opposition itself, although the Secretariat, under Mill, behaved toward us in an extremely hostile and unwarranted manner.
It is on the question of mass work, a most important question to us active Communists used to field work, whose very life medium is the working class to which we are indissolubly bound, it is on this question that we must heartily welcome your statement: “I am ready to admit that your group would be able in that respect to complete the work of the American League.” What an enormous difference between this statement and the altitude of the Leaders of the Communist League of America? It was this false view of the leaders of the Communist League which more than anything else, we believe, has alienated many honest workers and Communists from the Left Opposition in the United States.
In this connection permit us to stress the fact that the leadership of the American League in pursuing its sectarian policies (sectarian in the worst sense of the word), has been guilty not merely of failing to apply principles, which it did not “theoretically” deny, but of gross theoretical errors as well, errors totally in disharmony with the Left Opposition and which only strengthened its false line.
In agreeing with you that we can complete the work of the American League we do not wish to deny that in the course of existence, we have made some serious errors, both in our general program (for example on the Labor Party question, our mistake in allowing the impression to get abroad that we wished a bloc with the Right wing, and our mistake in ignoring on certain questions the great critical activity already done by the Left Opposition, etc.) and in our practice. However, we do affirm that you must recognize that on the whole we are part of the Left Opposition and belong inside it.
You write that we “must keep clearly in mind that the road to the International Left Opposition leads through the American League.” We have always fought for closer relations with the American League. As long ago as December 31, 1931, we made the following proposals to the American League:
“1. That joint membership meetings be held to discuss the differences between both organizations….”
“2. That special place be allotted in both the Class Struggle and the Militant for articles from representatives of both groups….”
“3. That opportunity be given in the forums conducted by both groups for speakers of each group to state their positions…”
“4. That both organizations cooperate as closely as possible in all united front activities and rally to mutual defense when attacked by capitalist forces…In all united fronts it is necessary not only to separate Communism from Monshevism as a whole, but to separate the Communists of the right from those who adhere to the views of the International Left Opposition. In all united fronts, where other labor organizations are present, both groups should strive to affect a unified policy agreeable to both groups and to act as a unit.”
We believe that in the framework of the Left Opposition we shall be able, in a loyal and helpful way, to struggle for that viewpoint, which can round out the work of the American Section and help to live up to its historic mission. We ask that you and the various sections of the Left Opposition aid us in this task.
We cannot close without expressing out warm appreciation for the hospitable and friendly reception given our representative, and for the autographed photograph and greetings, which you have sent us. We are confident that our discussions will substantially contribute to our formal entrance into the ranks of the Bolshevik- Leninists.
Communist League of Struggle