From New International, Vol.3 No.3, June 1936, pp.93-94.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Third International After Lenin
by Leon Trotsky
translated by J.G. Wright. Introduction by Max Shachtman
li+357 pp. New York. Pioneer Publishers. $2,00 [Popular ed.]. $3.00 [Standard ed.].
The science of Marxism was not handed down from Sinai by Marx and Engels nor engraved for all time on the tablets of their works. The principles of scientific socialism set forth in their writings represented the experience of the revolutionary movement up to their own time. Marx frequently cautioned his disciples that these principles were not to be worshipped as dogmas but to be used as guides to revolutionary action. Like all scientific laws, they had to be elaborated, concretized and refined; they had to be tested repeatedly in the laboratory of history under the constantly changing conditions of the class struggle.
Marxism is, therefore, not a collection of petrified dogmas but a living, growing body of knowledge which has developed together with the revolutionary movement. The progress of the one is essential to the progress of the other. Without the benefit of the searchlight of Marxism, which illumines the road ahead, the working class would be condemned to grope its way forward blindly over a terrain full of pitfalls, to stumble again and again, and to risk breaking its neck before reaching its goal. Marxian theory alone can enable young parties to avoid the errors committed by their comrades-in-arms in other countries and to approach new situations forewarned of dangers and equipped with tested practical prescriptions for the solutions of their problems.
On this account the great leaders of the revolutionary movement have always been careful to protect the heritage of Marxism and to preserve the clarity and purity of its ideas. At first glance, Lenin’s The State and Revolution has a scholastic, even a pedantic appearance. It seems to consist for the most part of a mosaic of commentaries on quotations from Marx and Engels, and of appeals to their authority against the revisers and perverters of their teachings. Yet Lenin had no superstitious reverence for authority or belief in the magic of sacred texts. No one was readier to question established authorities, even revolutionary authorities, or more ruthless in discarding obsolete ideas and slogans when conditions required.
Nor can anyone accuse Lenin and his followers of lacking capacity for political organization and action. The truth is that a scrupulous regard for the theoretical traditions of socialism, which he rightly regarded as the most precious possession of the party, was the chief source of the Bolsheviks– political success. Clarity of ideas and firmness of principle were the indispensable prerequisites for correct action in the class struggle. While he exercised an unceasing vigilance in safeguarding the theoretical heritage of the party, Lenin continually tested its theoretical foundations in the light of new experiences and changing conditions.
This book of Trotsky’s resembles nothing so much in Marxian literature as Lenin’s work on The State and Revolution. The parallel extends even to the circumstances of their creation. Both were written in exile: Lenin’s in Finland where he was in hiding from Kerensky’s police; Trotsky’s in Alma-Ata whither he had been banished by Stalin’s GPU. Both were written in response to profound crises in the revolutionary ranks, both were inspired by the same motives and dedicated to the same ends.
Lenin sat down to write The State and Revolution during a lull in the development of the Russian Revolution with three main purposes in mind. First, he wanted to restore the revolutionary ideas in the arsenal of Marxism to their rightful place in the consciousness of the vanguard, to remove the rust which the leaders of the social democracy had allowed to accumulate upon them in the decades preceding the war, to sharpen their revolutionary edge and burnish them so brightly that no one could mistake their character. Secondly, Lenin wanted to show how these ideas had sprung out of the experiences of the revolutions of 1848, 1871 and 1905 and were being confirmed in the revolution of 1917. Finally, he put forward these ideas in order to arm the Bolsheviks ideologically for the struggles ahead and to rally revolutionists everywhere to the banner of the Third International.
Lenin did not complete his theoretical work; it was interrupted by the practical preparation for the October insurrection. But with the aid of these ideas Lenin and Trotsky succeeded in rearming the party, leading it to victory over the bourgeoisie, and founding the Third International.
Ten years later Trotsky was confronted with a similar situation and a similar task. Lenin had been dead five years; the leadership of the Communist Party and the Communist International had fallen into the hands– of Stalin and the Centrist bureaucracy. The vacillating, opportunist course of the Stalinists had resulted in cruel defeats of the revolutionary movement in Germany, China and elsewhere, and great dangers to the proletarian dictatorship within the Soviet Union. Just as Lenin directed his polemic against the masked revisionism of Kautsky on the burning questions of the state and revolution, so Trotsky had to direct a merciless criticism against the masked revisionism of Stalin. And just as those who sided with Lenin against the opportunists in 1917 formed the first cadres of the Third International, so those who identified themselves with Trotsky’s ideas have since become the proponents of the Fourth International.
The specific occasion that called forth this work was the submission of Stalin-Bukharin’s draft program to the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928, which was subsequently adopted without serious changes. Trotsky’s criticism of the draft program is divided into three parts. The first section deals with the fundamental premises of the program. Trotsky emphasizes the necessity of an international program, a program proceeding from an analysis of world economic and political conditions and not from the conditions or tendencies of development in any one country.
Using this axiom as a point of reference, he points out some grave deficiencies in the draft, among them the omission of any extended discussion of the question of the relations between Europe and America, which has become the key question of imperialist politics since America’s intervention in the World War. Trotsky’s brief treatment of this question, a condensed version of the views expressed in greater detail in his hitherto untranslated collection of articles entitled Europa und Amerika, will be of special interest to American readers.
Trotsky focusses his main attention upon the two opposing theoretical tendencies which wrestle with each other in the document, the Stalinist innovation of “socialism in one country” and the Marxian theory of revolutionary internationalism. He demonstrates how a formal acknowledgment of international obligations is used to cover the introduction of nationalist conclusions, how every strophe in favor of international solidarity is immediately nullified by an antistrophe for national socialism, and predicts that the result can only be catastrophe for the Third International. He cites copious evidence to prove how alien the theory of “socialism in one country” is to all the traditions of the Bolsheviks and to the views held by Lenin, and even Stalin and Bukharin, up to the Autumn of 1924. To this revisionist theory, Trotsky opposes at every point the principles and program of the permanent revolution.
The power of Marxism lies not only in its ability to foresee the trend of events but to predict the consequences of a wrong political course. Trotsky sounds the alarm that the theory of socialism in one country must inevitably lead to the transformation of the parties of the Third International from the general staff of the world revolution into border patrols of the Soviet Union, to their progressive deterioration as revolutionary agencies, and ultimately to their collapse, whether the authors and proponents of this theory willed it so or not. The history of the Comintern since 1928 has completely confirmed this prophecy, nowhere so tragically as in Germany where the strongest section of the Third International outside the Soviet Union crumpled like a house of cards when the Brown Shirts seized power.
But the most striking exhibition of Trotsky’s prescience is to be found in the final chapter on The Theory of Socialism in One Country as a Series of Social-Patriotic Blunders. Thanks to the methods of Marxian analysis at his disposal, Trotsky was able to detect the germs of chauvinism when they made their first appearance in the organism of the Comintern in 1928. He predicted that if the source of these germs was not excised from the program and the parties of the Comintern inoculated against the theory of socialism in one country, the Third International would become the victim of the same social-patriotic disease that caused the collapse of the Second.
Eight years ago this contention must have seemed fantastic to many of those who remembered that Lenin’s International had been forged in struggle against the chauvinism of the social democracy. But politics has its own cruel logic. With the uninterrupted decay of the Comintern the disease infected every part of the organism until it broke out in malignant form after the German debacle. Today the Stalinists have become rabid patriots. What was a brilliant theoretical deduction in 1928 has now become a political reality!
The second and third sections are devoted to a critical examination of the role of the Third International in the revolutionary struggles of the post-Lenin period from 1923 to 1928. These were years of great battles and great defeats of the proletariat in Germany, Esthonia, England and, above all, in China. The draft program maintained a singular silence on all these events, preferring to pass them by with only casual reference – and understandably so. For the principal cause of these defeats lay in the false policies of the communist leadership.
In a series of brilliant chapters Trotsky lays bare the errors committed by the leaders of the Comintern and reviews the results. These chapters constitute, not only the best available history of the communist movement for those years, but an invaluable field marshal’s manual for all active revolutionists. Trotsky’s discussion of the strategy and tactics of the word revolution in the imperialist epoch is unique in Marxian literature. The peculiarly convulsive character of the present period, the tasks it imposes upon the revolutionary leadership, the importance of the party, the reactionary nature of such two-class parties as the Farmer-Labor party – these questions and others of equal importance are discussed in indissoluble connection with the experiences of the post-war revolutionary movement and the tasks ahead.
The Summary and Perspectives of the Chinese Revolution deals with the problems of revolutionary strategy in colonial and semi-colonial countries as they have been illuminated by the experiences of the Chinese revolution. The lessons of the disastrous course followed by the Chinese Communist Party in that mighty mass movement retain their full force today when the colonial peoples are again arising in revolt in Cuba, Syria, Indo-China, Egypt, while the Stalinists have reverted to an even ore flagrant policy of collaboration with the colonial bourgeoisie, not only in China, but in all other colonial countries.
Here is published for the first time in English Trotsky’s letter of appeal to the delegates of the Sixth Congress against his removal and expulsion by the Stalinist clique. In violation of his constitutional rights, it was never shown to any of the delegates. The document amplifies and underscores many of the topics touched upon in his criticism of the draft program, especially the question of the internal party regime in the Soviet Union.
The Sixth Congress marked the beginning of the sharp turn which found expression within the Soviet Union in the campaigns of industrialization and forced collectivization and – on the international arena – in all the insanities of the “third period”. Trotsky warned the Opposition not to be deceived by the turn. Though forced by the pressure of an awakened proletariat and the criticism of the Opposition, it was not a return to a firm Leninist line on the part of the Stalinists but a temporary manoeuvre which, unless the leadership was replaced, would sooner or later be succeeded by another swing toward the Right. So it has come to pass. Today we see the Stalinists again with hat in hand before Laval, Benes, the King of Greece, Chiang Kai-shek, and arm in arm with all the reformist heads of the social democracy.
The introduction by Max Shachtman carries forward the history of the Third International from the Sixth World Congress in 1928 to the Seventh in 1938, through the adventurist policies of the “third period” which ended so ignobly in the German debacle, to the present official reversion to the old opportunist course on a broader scale. Although the book lacks an index, it has been excellently edited and sets a high standard for the forthcoming volumes in this series of Trotsky’s Selected Works. The reader will find the numerous notes of considerable value.
Last updated on 2.8.2006