Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 7 No. 4


Trotskyism and Esperanto

Dear Editor

I was surprised to see in the Reader’s Notes section of your Culture and Revolution in the Thought of Leon Trotsky issue (Revolutionary History, Volume 7, no. 2), a bibliographical item on the Spanish Civil War from Sennaciulo, an Anarchist periodical in Esperanto that goes back about 80 years, though the worker’s Esperanto movement lost its vigour after the Second World War. I’m just curious how you ever stumbled upon this.

The simplified version of the story is this. Between the world wars, there was a thriving revolutionary proletarian Esperanto movement, apart from the politically neutral Esperantists and the pacifists. It basically consisted of an Anarchist and a Communist wing, united internationally in a single umbrella organisation, Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (SAT), which sundered finally during the Third Period. There is much documentation on this, some of which I have. There were even Esperanto periodicals from the Spanish Civil War from the Communists, Anarchists and POUM. Stalin exterminated the thriving Soviet Esperanto movement in 1937, leaving its foreign affiliates to twist in the wind. Hitler conducted an extermination campaign against Esperantists, and other fascist governments repressed them. Between Stalinism and fascism, the whole Esperanto movement suffered a terrible blow.

I had never heard of any Esperantist Trotskyists during this period until a friend stumbled across a footnote in an historical article. As it turns out, there was a Bolshevist-Leninist Fraction of the SAT, which even published its own organ, La Permanenta Revolucio. The leadership of this fraction was in two countries, Denmark and the Netherlands. The leaders in the former were Svend Johanssen and Tage Lau, and in the latter Bas Wels.

Here is a translation of a communication from historian Ulrich Lins to a friend of mine, dated 22 December 1990:

The Bolshevist-Leninist Fraction of SAT (‘Bolenfrasat’): It was founded in 1935 and had a Trotskyist character. Its organ was called La Permanenta Revolucio. Among the chief activists were Tage Lau and Svend Johanssen in Copenhagen, and Bas Wels in Rotterdam. I never saw the organ, but regular news items on the activities of the fraction appeared in Sennaciulo. Maybe by corresponding with Copenhagen SAT members you can discover further details.

About Kifintern I know little, and I lack the time to check the early issues of Sennacieca Revuo, in which I recall finding regular polemics against the Idist-Communists. To gain a clearer picture one should also consult the periodical La Emancipanta Stelo (in Ido).

Esperanto’s main rival as a constructed (artificial) language in the first three decades of the twentieth century was called Ido, which, incredibly, also sprouted a left wing, including a Communist presence. One of my correspondents says that there may have been Trotskyists in that milieu as well, but I was unable to confirm that, and I doubt it very much, as Ido was more or less moribund before the end of the 1920s, unless there were some stray Left Oppositionists, but that seems rather far-fetched.

I have copies of all the extant issues, 58 pages in all, held in the collection of the International Esperanto Museum in Vienna, a branch of the Austrian National Library. A brief glance pinpoints the editor of La Permanenta Revolucio as Svend Johanssen in Denmark. Jorn Andersen has information on Johanssen and Tage Lau in Danish. And there is another name, Aage Kielsø.

La Permanenta Revolucio may be the only organ that ever existed of Esperantist Trotskyists trying to manoeuvre in those troubled times of the 1930s. It will be interesting to see how they saw things differently, even as a tiny handful of people, from the Stalinists and the Anarchists. There is only one other place that this Bolenfrasat group is documented, and that is in the contemporaneous pages of Sennaciulo. A researcher would have to gain access to a major Esperanto research collection with old issues of Sennaciulo, and inspect all the issues at least from 1935–36, and maybe before, and after to chart the history of this group. Nobody else has bothered to document this chapter in the history of Trotskyism and the workers’ Esperanto movement. There are probably only a very few people on the planet who know even what I know.

I have been told that in the 1940s Lucien Laurat maintained a correspondence with Victor Serge, and that Laurat was also an active member of SAT (K-do Revo/Lora) and a friend of Eugene Lanti, the founder of SAT. I also have a copy of a bulletin from the POUM published in Esperanto. I myself published an article in Esperanto on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination, and have other material on various stray contemporary Trotskyist Esperantists.

These old bulletins are not in the best of shape, so although I could scan the image of La Permanenta Revolucio into my computer, any attempt at OCR was a total failure. Proper automatic digitisation of this material would require far more sophisticated software, if not hardware, than I have.

I have a long-standing ambition to put this material on a website, and now it is evident to me that ETOL (Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line) is the natural location for any documentation – including mine – on the Esperanto wing of the Trotskyist movement. There is also voluminous Communist material that could go onto the Marxists Internet Archive, plus the Esperanto publications of the US Socialist Labor Party, and other stray Marxist material. I imagine that the bulk of the enormous Anarchist corpus and the material from other radical and labour tendencies would have to be posted elsewhere.

Ralph Dumain

The C.L.R. James Institute, 505 West End Avenue #15C, New York, NY 10024, USA; <rdumain@igc.org>

Here is a quick sketch of the contents of these bulletins.

  • No. 1 (1935), 7 pages: Worldwide list of Trotskyist periodicals, Declaration of the Bolshevik-Leninists, A Short Declaration of the Necessity and Principles of the New International, Eleven Programmatic Theses of the Bolshevik-Leninists.
  • No. 3 (1935), 12 pages: Declaration of Principles of the Workers Party of the USA, Several sections, including one on the Negro Question, Query: Which Party is this Really?, This is a Matter of Translation, Is the Party in Question the American Workers Party, or Something Else?
  • No. 4 (1936), 14 pages: The Fourth International and War, The Seventh World Congress of the Comintern, The Popular Front in France, Sennaciismo or Marxism?, review of Lanti’s Is Socialism being Constructed in the USSR?, The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Sanctions: Resolution of the Mariners Union in New Zealand, The Esperanto Press Surveyed.
  • No. 5 (1936) Second year, 6 pages [later pages missing]: The Fourth International and War (part 2), The Essence and Significance of Sennaciismo, The Stakhanov Movement in the USSR.
  • No. 6 (1936), 18 pages: The Fourth International and War (part 3), Stalinism: On the Seventh World Congress the Comintern by Trotsky, Centrism: Programme of the Swedish Socialist Party, Sennaciismo: Is there Red Fascism in the USSR? (against the notions of red fascism and state capitalism), The Stalinist Betrayal Proved by L’Humanité, Esperanto press survey, paean to Stalin from the Leningrad Gvidanto, A Sennaciista Lie.

Editor’s Note:

The following information was provided by Ron Lynn, an old friend of this magazine and an enthusiastic Esperantist, and was included in a letter to us from Mike Jones on the Danish Trotskyist movement which should have been published in Revolutionary History, Volume 2, no: 3 but was omitted: ‘Two of the group, Tage Lau and Aage Kielsø, went to Spain and joined the POUM. Another interesting fact about Moth’s group in Steen Bille’s book is that they published a Trotskyist paper in Esperanto, as part of their intervention into the workers’ Esperanto movement, a sure sign of their internationalism.’ This letter will be placed on the Revolutionary History website.

Updated by ETOL: 6.10.2011