Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 2
Sam Gordon and Heinrich Brandler
There is indeed a callow and derivative side to Sam Gordon’s Reports From Germany (Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no. 1). Above all, they seem to be written not for workers, but for a small group of political initiates. This is hardly surprising in an enthusiastic young revolutionary. However, it is unfair of Mike Jones to rush into print in the same issue to use these weaknesses for an attack on Trotskyism and a free advert for the right-wing Brandler group, the Kommunistische Partei (Opposition) (KPO).
References to the ‘rigid sectarianism so characteristic of US Trotskyism’ are untainted by the slightest shred of evidence. At the same time, Mike Jones imputes motives of vanity and personal spite to Trotsky: ‘In my opinion, Trotsky, after being exiled, was preoccupied in building a faction personally loyal to himself.’
Mike Jones talks about Trotsky’s ‘identification of the KPO with his arch-enemy Bukharin, in whom he believed the counter-revolution lurked’. Did Sam Gordon treat Brandler in the same amiable way? Not at all. He acknowledged Brandler’s greater familiarity with conditions in Germany and the situation in the German Communist Party (KPD), and frankly admitted: ‘Brandler gave a pretty accurate appraisal of conditions in Germany, from which there was much to learn.’
Mike Jones correctly points out that Sam Gordon did not detail the programme of the KPO, but merely asserted that it was reformist. In reply, Mike Jones merely lists the programmatic demands, and quotes Theo Bergmann asserting that the (in themselves not incorrect) demands in the KPO programme ‘tried to speak to all working strata, and linked the economic demands to the fundamental political questions’, and that the KPO worked consistently for this programme and for the Proletarian Emergency Programme wherever it had influence.
The point is that the International Left Opposition and the various Right Opposition groups differed over what the ‘fundamental political questions’ were. This is very clear in a quotation by Sam Gordon of a remark by Brandler at a public meeting which Mike Jones passes over in silence.
Pressed to explain the crisis of the KPD and the Comintern, Brandler said ‘almost as an aside’: ‘Even the skilled leadership of Marx and Engels was not able to hold together the First International, built on centralised direction. Its decomposition showed that it is necessary that the proletariat of each country work out its own problems in the struggle for power.’ This is a pretty ‘fundamental’ political break with revolutionary Marxism, a spoonful of tar to spoil all the honey in the barrel of the KPO’s programme. And it was not an isolated remark, but completely in line with the prejudice against Bolshevik internationalism in KPO circles.
I very much regret a tiny hint of an echo of this attitude in the otherwise excellent editorial to that edition of the magazine. Discussing the series of failures by the German Communists in the 1920s to seize power, the editorial says: ‘And at each failed attempt Moscow scapegoated the existing leadership and replaced it, generally with an inferior one …’
This is true, but only of the period after Lenin’s death. This Stalinist method of party ‘building’ is far different from the practices of the Communist International under Lenin. The Comintern of Lenin overrode the sectarians to bring the leaders of the centrist Independent Socialist Party of Germany (USPD) to its Second Congress, later successfully winning the majority of the rank and file to Communism, strove to knit together and stabilise a leadership in the KPD, and bent over backwards to avoid the split with Paul Levi.
The villain was not ‘Moscow’ as such, but the theory and practice of ‘Socialism in One Country’.
Updated by ETOL: 25.9.2011