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The New International, February 1938


Leon Trotsky

Two Letters on the Question of the German October


From New International, Vol.4 No.2, February 1938, pp.56-58.
These letters are also included in the Leon Trotsky Archive:
Letter to Treint & Letter to Neurath.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


One of the aspects of the abortive German revolution of October 1923 which has not been sufficiently illuminated, is the position taken by Leon Trotsky before the Fifth Congress of the Communist International early in 1924 on the course pursued by Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer, the leaders of the German Communist Party during the fatal 1923 days. His position has not only been misrepresented by the official historians of the Communist International, but also by Brandler and Thalheimer themselves. The latter based themselves, in this connection, largely upon the theses, generally ascribed to the then Russian Opposition, which were formally presented in the names of Karl Radek, Yuri Piatakov and Leon Trotsky. The circumstances under which Trotsky’s name appeared under that resolution are dealt with in the following two letters.

Albert Treint of France and Alois Neurath of Czechoslovakia became the leaders of their respective parties in the period following the Fifth World Congress, generally known as the Zinovievist “Bolshevization” period. Beginning not only as anti-Brandlerites but also as anti-Trotskyists, they followed the course of Zinoviev and finally joined with the latter in the famous Trotsky-Zinoviev bloc. They were both members of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, from which they were at last expelled as “Trotskyists”. In more recent times, while Neurath has remained to a large extent a supporter of the movement for the Fourth International, Treint has developed a completely anti-Marxian position, ending in association with the group of George Valois in France. – ED.

Letter to Albeit Treint

From New International, Vol.4 No.2, February 1938, pp.56-58

DEAR Comrade Treint:

As I was able to convince myself from our correspondence and now from our conversations, your mind turns constantly not to questions of program and policy but rather to isolated incidents in the past. Tirelessly and – if you will allow me – with the bias of a prosecutor, you ferret out the mistakes of others, thinking in this way to minimize your own. Previously in correspondence and now in personal talks, I made several attempts to shunt you from this, in my opinion, barren path to the path of the vital and actual problems of the revolution, but you stubbornly persist on your own. Pursuing the tradition of the period when you stood at the head of the French party, you continue to demand of everybody the admission of their mistakes. I am forced to take my stand on the level to which you reduce our political discussion in order once and for all to draw a line under certain questions. Inasmuch as in your researches you operate with isolated petty episodes, data, chance conversations and so on – elements, that is, which do not at all allow of verification, I prefer to answer you in writing.

First, I shall begin with an “admission of my mistakes”.

Yes, in the early part of 1924 I did allow my name to be signed, in my absence, to Radek’s theses on the German revolution. These theses were erroneous – to tell the truth, not so grossly in error as were the theses of the Comintern – and were in conflict with everything that I wrote and said Erior, during, and after their compilation y Radek. Doubtless it was a blunder on my part. But there was nothing “principled” in this mistake. The plenum of the ECCI found me ill in a village, 40 kilometers away from Moscow. Radek communicated with me by ’phone, which functioned very poorly in winter-time. Radek was being hounded at the plenum. He was seeking support. He declared to me categorically that the views presented by the theses were identical with those I had developed in my speches and articles, and that Piatakov had already signed them. He asked me to add my signature without insisting upon reading the theses since he had only half an hour before the decisive session. I agreed – not without inner wavering – to give my signature. Yes, I committed an error in placing too much confidence in the judgment of two comrades, Radek and Piatakov. For, as a matter of fact, the two of them, perhaps even in agreement with Brandler, introduced into the theses a number of formulations which were intended to mitigate Brandler’s guilt, and to justify the conduct of Piatakov and Radek themselves, who supported Brandler in many things.

After acquainting myself with Radek’s theses, I did not hide either from their author or from any other comrade my disapproval of the theses. In speeches and articles that were issued as pamphlets, and later in entire volumes, I formulated time and again my appraisal of the German situation, which had nothing in common with Radek’s theses. This appraisal which I arrived at approximately in July 1923, I have upheld unaltered in its essentials to this very day. Herein I naturally include the appraisal of Brandler’s politics, that of the Zinoviev faction of the Comintern and so on.

It is a noteworthy fact that not a single member of the Zinoviev clique utilized in Russia my signature to Radek’s theses, for my attitude towards the Brandlerites was far too well known. From September 1923 to January 1924, Zinoviev and Stalin even defended Brandler against my allegedly unjustified attacks. But far more important is another aspect of the matter which has apparently completely slipped your memory. With all its errors as regards the past, Radek’s resolution contained a most important warning as regards the future: it stated that the directly revolutionary situation had passed, and that a period of defensive struggles and of preparation for a new revolutionary situation was in store. In my eyes this was the central point. On the other hand, the resolution of the Comintern continued to steer a course toward armed insurrection. Hence flowed the ill-fated policy of ultra-leftism of 1924 to 1925. Had I been present at the Plenum, and had the adoption of one of these two resolutions hinged upon my vote, I would have voted for Radek’s resolution, notwithstanding all of its mistakes in regard to the past. But you, comrade Treint, voted for the resolution of the Comintern which resulted in the greatest calamities and devastations. That is why you are hardly the proper prosecutor even as regards Radek’s poor resolution.

In 1924 you couldn’t of course be acquainted with the behind-the-scenes history of Radek’s resolution. At that time, you had the right to invest my signature to Radek’s theses with an exaggerated importance, without juxtaposing them with what I had personally said and written on this very question. But since that time, almost eight years have elapsed. All the most important documents have long been published in all languages. My French book on the Comintern [1] states everything essential in so far as the policy of the Brandlerites in 1923 is concerned.

I ask you: What do you expect to glean now, in the autumn of 1931, from the chance episode of my signature to Radek’s theses? Why not give yourself an answer to this question? Why not formulate your reply in writing?

Furthermore, you persistently cite my declaration that in all fundamental questions on which I disagreed with Lenin, Lenin was right as against me. This declaration is contained in the platform of the opposition bloc of 1926. You, like Zinoviev, seek to draw directly or indirectly from this declaration the conclusion that you were correct in the criticism which you and your faction directed against me from 1924 to 1927 – if not entirely then at least partially so.

And here, too, I begin with an “admission of my mistake”. And this time likewise the error was not of a principled character: It rests completely and exclusively on the plane of inner factional tactics.

In its general form, my declaration that Lenin was right as against me is unquestionably correct. I made it without doing the least violence to my political conscience. Not Lenin came over to me, but I came to Lenin. I came to him later than many others. But I make bold to think I understood him in a way not inferior to others. If the matter involved the historical past alone, I would make no exceptions to my declaration. It would be unworthy of Lenin’s memory, and at the same time beneath my dignity, for me to attempt, now that Lenin is no longer among the living, to demonstrate out of mere ambition that on such and such questions I was right as against Lenin.

Nevertheless I violently opposed the declaration which you now so avidly seize upon. Why? Precisely because I foresaw that a declaration on my part would be seized upon by all those who were and who remain equally wrong both as against Lenin and myself. On the question of my disagreements with Lenin, the Zinoviev faction and its French section have written a great many pages, theoretically absurd, politically reactionary, and in considerable measure, slanderous. With my acknowledgement of Lenin’s correctness, Zinoviev sought, if only partially, to throw a veil over the previous criminal “ideological” work of his own faction against me.

Zinoviev’s position at that time was truly tragic. Only yesterday a recognized leader of anti-Trotskyism, he on the next day bowed to the banner of the 1923 Opposition. At the sessions of the C.C. all the speakers took every occasion to fling in his face his own declarations of yesterday to which he could say nothing in reply. The same thing was done day in and day out by Pravda. On the other hand, the advanced Petrograd workers, followers of Zinoviev, who had engaged honestly and seriously in the struggle against “Trotskyism” could by no means reconcile themselves to the sudden turn of 180 degrees. Zinoviev was confronted with the danger of losing the best elements of his own faction. In these conditions, a number of comrades from the 1923 Opposition insistently argued with me: “Let us give Zinoviev some general formula that would enable him, if only partially, to defend himself against the blows of the Stalinists on the one hand, and against the pressure from his own Petrograd co-thinkers on the other.” I had no objections in principle to a defensive formula of this type, but on one condition, namely, that it contained no principled concessions on my part. The struggle around this question lasted for weeks. At the last moment, at a time when it was already necessary to hand in a finished platform to the CC a clear-cut diplomatic break occurred between us and the Zinovievists precisely over the question of this formula which interests you so much. We were ready to introduce a platform independently in the name of the 1923 faction. As is always the case, intermediaries were found. Changes and corrections were introduced. In our own (1923) group, it was decided to make a concession to the Zinovievists. In our group I voted against the concession, finding it excessive and equivocal. But I did not break on this question either with the leading center of my own group or with the Zinovievists.

However, I did warn my friends that I would not raise the question so long as only the historical past was concerned. But as soon as it would be posed as a programmatic or political question, I would of course defend the theory of the permanent revolution. This is precisely what I did later.

That is what really took place. Now you know it. You naturally could not have known it in your time. But a great deal of water has gone under the bridge since 1926. We passed through the experience of the Chinese revolution. It has been revealed with absolute clarity that the sole antithesis to the theory of nationalistic socialism is the theory of the permanent revolution. The same question was posed with regard to India, and gave us, in particular, a test of the theory of “bi-composite (two-class) parties”. Now the problem of the permanent revolution unfolds before us on the arena of the Iberian peninsula. In Germany the theory of the permanent revolution, and that theory alone, stands counterposed to the theory of a “people’s revolution”. On all these questions the Left Opposition has expressed itself quite categorically. And I myself, in particular, have long since explained in the press the mistakes of the Russian platform of 1926, in so far as it contained concessions to the Zinovievists.

I ask you: What do you desire to glean today, in the autumn of 1931, from the circumstance that in the autumn of 1926 I deemed it necessary – rightly or wrongly – not to protest publicly against the purely formal concessions which my then political friends thought it necessary to make to the Zinovievists? Why not reply to this question in writing!

Now I could with complete justification raise some questions concerning your own past. Have you understood that whatever might have been this or that partial mistake or sin, the basic nucleus of the 1923 Opposition was and remains the vanguard of the vanguard; that it conducted and still conducts a struggle for the theory of Marxism, for the strategy of Lenin, for the October revolution; whereas the opponent grouping to which you belonged carried through the fatal revision of Leninism, shook the dictatorship of the proletariat and weakened the Comintern? Have you understood that in the struggle against “Trotskyism” you were the unconscious tool of the forces of Thermidor? Yes or no?

However, I shall not insist on your answering this question, although it is of far greater importance than all those petty incidents on which you vainly waste your time and mine.

But while I am ready to put aside questions relating to the past, I can’t permit any ambiguity or half-statements in principled questions that concern the present and the future.

What is your attitude to the theory of the permanent revolution, comrade Treint? Do you still uphold today that arch-reactionary criticism, Thermidorian in its social roots, which you developed in your time jointly with all the epigones and in complete solidarity with them? On this cardinal question there are and cannot be any concessions. There is no room here for any reservations and equivocations. The question has been dealt with in theses, articles and books with utmost clarity. It has been tested in the experience of colossal events. All the sections of the Left Opposition – above all the Russian section – stand exclusively and completely on the basis of the theory of the permanent revolution. Your clear and unambiguous answer to this question is a necessary preliminary condition for solving the question of whether we can work together within the framework of one and the same faction.

This cardinal programmatic question, which counterposes the Bolshevik-Leninists to the Centrists and the Rights, contains a whole series of questions that flow from it:

All these questions which met with anti-Marxian decisions at the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern retain a great importance even today.

A correct answer to these questions is, as was already stated, from my point of view absolutely indispensable for establishing a programmatic precondition for joint work. But programmatic premises are not enough. There remain questions of tactics and of organization.

In this sphere our correspondence has already revealed very serious and sharp differences which my initial talks with you have unfortunately not at all mitigated. So as not to repeat myself, I refer you here only to two documents: my letter to you of May 23, 1929, and my criticism of your draft declaration upon your entry into the French League for May 23,1931. I enclose copies of both documents.

In conclusion I should like to express a general consideration which might perhaps prove of assistance in better understanding my estimate of your position. In the ranks of the Left Opposition, especially its French section, a spiritual disease is rather widespread, which I would, without going into an analysis of its social roots, call by the name of its most finished representative: Souvarinism. It is – approaching the question on the plane of political psychology – a disease combining the paralysis of political will with hypertrophy of rationalizing. Cabinet wit, without roots, without an axis, without clear aims, criticism for criticism’s sake, clutching at trifles, straining at gnats while swallowing camels – such are the traits of this type, concerned above all with the preservation of its narrow-circle or personal “independence”. A circle of this kind, too irresolute to join the social-democrats, but likewise incapable of the politics of Bolshevism, incapable of active politics in general, is primarily inclined to jot notations on the margins of actions and books of others. This spirit, I repeat, is most graphically expressed by Souvarine who has finally found an adequate medium for his tendency in the shape of a bibliographical journal, in which Souvarine subjects to criticism everything and everybody in the universe as if in the name of his own “doctrine”. But the whole secret lies in the fact that Souvarine has no doctrine, and by virtue of his mental make-up, cannot have. In consequence, Souvarine’s spiritual creative work, which lacks neither wit nor resourcefulness, is by its very nature parasitic. In him are combined the calcined residues of communism with the as yet unfolded buds of Menshevism. This precisely constitutes the essence of Souvarinism, in so far as it is at all possible to speak of any essence here ...

[We omit here a brief personal reference by the author of this letter, which has no bearing on the subject dealt with throughout the rest of the contents. – ED.]

You wage a stubborn struggle not for a given system of ideas and methods but for your own “independence” and there too it is altogether impossible to obtain any conception of just what is the content of this independence. Comrade Treint, this is nothing else but the disease of Souvarinism. With all my heart I hope you will be cured of it.

This question, which is to a considerable degree personal, would have far less significance if both of us were members of a large healthy proletarian party. But with us, it is as yet a question of a small faction which defends under exceptionally difficult conditions the banner of Marx and Lenin. For a fighting faction of this kind, the bacillus of Souvarinism is far more dangerous than for a big party. It would of course be criminal to split frivolously with isolated groups and even isolated individuals. But it is even more criminal to permit such an initial composition of a factional organization as would paralyze or weaken its aggressive propagandist spirit, its political fighting capacity. That is why there are certain conditions when it is necessary to say: We defend a certain sum of ideas; but you defend a given sum of commentaries to our views. Let us try not to interfere with each other, and function separately. Perhaps experience in its purer form will teach us both something. When we shall meet again on a new stage, we shall draw the balance, and will perhaps be better able to arrive at an understanding than we can today. I do not say that this is the sole conceivable solution, or that it is the best one. But I do not at all consider it as excluded.


KADIKOI, September 13, 1931



1. Cf. The Third International After Lenin, pp.91 et seq. New York 1936.

Letter to Alois Neurath

From New International, Vol.4 No.2, February 1938, p.58

DEAR Comrade Neurath:

... Now to Brandler’s letter. He is correct that my signature stands below the theses of Radek and Piatakov, which do not rightly reflect my views on the events, and which, in many parts, are perhaps opposite to them. (Unfortunately I do not have the text.) How did this become possible?

The plenum of the Executive was convoked towards the end of 1923, when the revolutionary situation in Germany had already been hopelessly missed. I was ill and was in the country, about 40 kilometers from Moscow. The German delegates (I remember Remmele, Koenen – but there were 5 or 6 of them) came to me in the country in order to learn my opinion on the situation. All of them, like Brandler for that matter, were of the opinion that the revolutionary situation would grow continuously sharper and break out in the immediate future. I considered this position catastrophic for the fate of the party and placed this question above all the others. Zinoviev, like the Russian Political Bureau as a whole, confirmed the course towards the armed uprising in Germany. I could only regard this as disastrous. Radek called me on the telephone from Moscow at the last hour with the query if I would be prepared to support his theses with my name. The telephonic conversation took place half an hour before Radek’s appearance at the plenum. I replied to him: “If your theses openly assert that the German situation is in a state of ebb and not of flow and that it is necessary to make a corresponding strategical turn, then I am ready to support your theses without having read them.” There was no longer any other practical possibility. Upon Radek’s assurance that this opinion was very clearly expressed in the theses, I gave my name over the telephone. At the same time, however, I insured myself by the fact that I had very precisely formulated my conceptions of the German situation, its phases of development and its perspectives, in a series of articles and reports. My attitude towards the Radek theses may be deemed correct or false. An outsider, who neither knows the circumstances nor had read my writings of the period, can of course be led into confusion by my signature to the theses of Radek (who had to defend himself, too, and thereby also Brandler). But Brandler knows the circumstances very well and when he refers to Radek’s theses, it is deliberately misleading on his part.

I must however add that in the Russian Central Committee I personally protected Brandler, because I was always against the policy of scape-goats. But that this goat has the inclination to leap to the right – on that score I had no illusions even then. What completely disqualifies Brandler politically in my eyes, is his attitude towards the Chinese revolution and the Anglo-Russian Committee.

While Brandler is formally in the right with regard to the Radek theses, I cannot, however, at all understand what he means when he says that in 1926 I offered him, Brandler, a testimonial from Zinoviev on his, Brandler’s, strategical flawlessness. I learn of this story now for the first time. Was it in writing? Was it oral? As I recall, I had neither written nor oral contact with Brandler in 1926. I scarcely got to see him at all in that period. Radek, to be sure, oscillated between the Left Opposition and Brandler. He had doubts concerning the economic questions and referred constantly to the authority of Brandler as an official of the VSNK (Supreme Economic Council). Brandler asserted that an accelerated industrialization was impossible. During the working out of the Platform, Zinoviev put the demand that Radek must abandon his ambiguous attitude towards Brandlerian opportunism. I supported this proposal with the greatest readiness and we put a friendly ultimatum to Radek. He begged for 24 to 48 hours for reflection. It occurs to me now that he may have utilized this time to win Brandler for our Platform. This is a belated hypothesis of mine, but it is also the only explanation of Brandler’s muddled contention. That our bloc with Zinoviev was unprincipled, I cannot admit for a single instant. The principled basis of the bloc was our Platform, which I regard to this day as the most important programmatic document of post-Leninist Bolshevism.

How the Brandlerites regarded Trotskyism in 1923, is shown by the enclosed review from the Rote Fahne. A German comrade recently sent me the interesting document. The Rote Fahne was at that time in the hands of the Brandlerites (Böttcher and Thalheimer). I assume that Thalheimer wrote the review. Brandler, at the very least, tolerated it. I do not want to dwell upon the inaccuracies in the review. I did not stand at the left wing of the Mensheviks. From 1904 to 1917 I was organizationally outside of both factions and never called myself a Menshevik. But that’s neither here nor there at the moment. You know, moreover, what proposal the Brandlerite Central Committee unanimously made to me as late as September 1923. [1] The most fateful matters were involved, and the proposal was motivated accordingly. – But that’s enough on the matter for the moment.


Buyukada, June 14, 1932



1. The Central Committee of the German Communist Party asked the Political Bureau of the Russian party to send Trotsky to Germany in a capacity which would have meant, in effect, that he direct the impending insurrection. Zinoviev, offended at not having been proposed, stood in the way, offered various pretexts for not concurring in the German request; and, together with Stalin and Kamenev (they were the then ruling trio) nominated Piatakov for the mission.

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