Written: 15 July 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 47, 14 October 1933, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2016. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.
At the time of its inception, the Left Opposition posed as its task, the reform and the regeneration of the C.I. by means of Marxist criticism and internal factional work. In a whole series of countries, particularly in Germany, the events of the last years have revealed, with crushing force, the pernicious character of the policy of bureaucratic centrism. But the Stalinist bureaucracy, arming itself with extraordinary repressions, opposed, not unsuccessfully, its interests and its caste prejudices to the exigencies of historical development. The result was that the evolution of the C.I. took the path not of regeneration but of decomposition and disintegration.
The course towards “reform”, taken in its entirety, was, however, not incorrect: it represented a necessary stage in the evolution of the Marxist wing of the C.I., it gave us the opportunity to educate the cadres of the Bolshevik-Leninists and was not without influence on the workers movement in its entirety. At all times the policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy was subjected to the pressure of the Left Opposition. The progressive measures of the government of the U.S.S.R. which have held back the coming of Thermidor, were only partial and belated borrowings from the Left Opposition. Analogous phenomena, only on a lesser scale, can be observed in the life of all the sections of the C.I.
To this we must add, that the degree of degeneration, generally speaking, cannot be measured in advance, merely with the help of its. symptoms. A living verification of events is necessary. Theoretically it was still impossible in the last year to state that it was absolutely excluded that the Bolshevik-Leninists would succeed, supporting themselves on the sharpening of the class struggle, in forcing the C.I. onto the path of a real struggle against Fascism. The attempt then made by the S.A.P. to take an independent position did not serve to influence the march of events precisely because at the critical moment, the masses awaited political leadership from their old organizations. In carrying out the faction policy and in educating its cadres as to the experience of this policy, the Left Opposition, nevertheless, did not conceal, neither to itself nor to others, the fact that the new defeat of the proletariat, a product of the policy of centrism, will inevitably take on a decisive character and will demand a fundamental revision of our position on the question: faction or party?
What is most dangerous in politics is to fall victim to one’s own formula, which was opportune yesterday, but which has lost all content for today.
The collapse of the German C.P. still left theoretically two possibilities for the Stalinist bureaucracy; either a complete revision of the policy and regime or, on the contrary, a complete strangulation of the remains of life in the sections of the C.I. The Left Opposition was guided by this theoretical possibility when, while already pronouncing the slogan of a new party for Germany, it still left pending the question of the fate of the C.I. It was clear, however, that the following weeks would have to supply an answer immediately and there was very little hope that this answer would be favorable.
All that happened after the fifth of March Resolution of the Praesidium on the situation in Germany, silent obeisance of all the sections before this resolution, anti-Fascist Congress at Paris, official course of the C.C. of the German C.P., fate of the Austrian C.P., fate of the Bulgarian C.P., etc. –) is irrefutable testimony to the fact that in Germany there was decided not only the fate of the C.P.G. but also that of the C.I. in its entirety. The Moscow leadership not only proclaimed correct the policy that had assured Hitler’s victory but prohibited discussion of what had taken place. And this scandalous prohibition was neither rejected nor even violated. No national congress, no international congress, no discussion in the party meetings, no polemic in the press! An organization which has been awakened by the thunder of Fascism and which humbly supports such humiliations on the part of the bureaucracy shows by that fact that it is dead and that nothing will revive it. To say this openly and aloud is a real duty towards the proletariat and its future. It is on the historic collapse of the official C.I. that we must take our point of departure for all our future work.
The fact that two parties, Social Democrat and Communist, which had both grown up half a century apart from the same point of departure in the theory of Marxism and the class interests of the proletariat should have come to the end of their road so miserably: one by base betrayal, the other by bankruptcy, this fact can engender a feeling of despair even in the ranks of the advanced workers. “Where are the guarantees that the new revolutionary rise will not suffer the same fate?” Whoever demands guarantees beforehand should, in general, renounce revolutionary politics. The causes of the collapse of the social democracy and official Communism are to be found not in the Marxist theory nor in the bad quality of the people who applied it, but in the concrete conditions of the historical processes. It is not a question of opposition between abstract principles but of the struggle of living social forces with their inevitable ebb and flow, with the degeneration of organizations, with the wearing out of entire generations, with the necessity resulting therefrom of mobilizing fresh forces for a new historic stage. Nobody went out of his way to pave with asphalt, in advance, the road of the revolutionary ascent of the proletariat. With inevitable halts and partial retreats, it is necessary to go forward on a road littered with numberless obstacles and encumbered with the debris of the past. If anyone is frightened by this let him step aside.
How is the fact to be explained, however, that our group itself whose analysis and prognosis were confirmed by the whole march of developments, grows too slowly? It is necessary to look for this cause once again in the general march of the class struggle. The victory of Fascism effects millions of men. A political prognosis is accessible only to thousands or tens of thousands of men, who moreover are subject to the pressure of millions of others. The revolutionary current cannot obtain startling victories in conditions when the proletariat in its entirety suffers the greatest defeats. This is no reason to fall into dejection. It is precisely in the periods of revolutionary ebb that tested cadres are formed which will later on be called upon to lead the masses to new conquests.
The attempts made more than once in the past to create a “second party” or a “fourth international” had their origin in the sectarian experience of certain groups and circles, “disenchanted” with Bolshevism, and this is why they met with misfortune every time. We do not proceed from our own subjective “discontentment” and “disillusionment” but from the objective march of the class struggle. All the conditions of the development of the proletarian revolution imperatively demand a new organization of the vanguard and bring to it the necessary prerequisites.
The disintegration of the social democracy proceeds parallel with the collapse of the C.I. However deep the reaction is in the proletariat itself, hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the world cannot but pose to themselves the question of the further paths of the struggle and of a new organization of the forces. Other hundreds of thousands will join them in the near future. To demand of these workers, a certain section of whom have left the C.I. with indignation and the majority of whom did not belong to the C.I. even in its best years, to demand of them that they recognize the leadership of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which is incapable of learning anything or of forgetting anything, would be Quixotic and only retard the formation of the proletarian vanguard. Inevitably, there will be sincere Communists in the ranks of the Stalinist organizations who will turn with fright and even with indignation against our new orientation. For some of them, perhaps temporarily, sympathy will give way to animosity. However, it is necessary to be guided not by sentimental and personal considerations but by the criterion of the mass.
At a time when hundreds of thousands, millions of workers, particularly in Germany, separate themselves from Communism, partly toward Fascism, a majority in the camp of indifference, thousands and tens of thousands of social democratic workers, under the pressure of the same defeat are evolving to the left, that is to Communism. There can, however, be no question of their recognition of the Stalinist leadership so hopelessly compromised. Up till now these left socialist organizations have used against us our refusal to detach ourselves from the C.I. and to build an independent party. Today, this sharp difference is eliminated by the march of developments. Thus the discussion is transferred from questions of organization to programmatic and political questions. The new party will be superior to the old one if, standing firmly on the basis of the decisions of the first four congresses of the C.I. in its program, in its tactic and its organization, it knows how to draw the balance of the terrible lessons of the last years.
The Bolshevik-Leninists should begin open negotiations with the Left Socialist organizations. We propose as a basis for discussion the eleven points passed by our pre-confereuce (after having changed the point of “faction and party” in the spirit of this thesis). Naturally, we are ready to discuss any other programmatic proposal in an attentive and friendly manner. We should demonstrate and we will demonstrate, that intransigence of principle has nothing in common with sectarian exclusiveness. We will show that the Marxist policy signifies the drawing of the reformist workers into the camp of revolution and not in pushing the revolutionary workers into the camp of Fascism.
The formation in several countries of strong revolutionary organizations, freed of responsibility for the crimes and mistakes of the reformist and centrist bureaucrats, armed with a Marxist program and a clear revolutionary perspective, will open a new era in the development of the world proletariat. These organizations will attract to them all the real Communist elements, who today still do not dare to break with the Stalinist bureaucracy and, what is more important, they will gather under their banner the young generation of workers.
The existence of the Soviet Union, despite the advanced degeneration of the workers’ state, remains even today a fact of immense revolutionary importance. The collapse of the Soviet Union would mark the beginning of a frightful reaction in the entire world, perhaps for decades. The struggle for the conservation, the cleansing and the strengthening of the first workers’ state is indissolubly connected with the struggle of the world proletariat for the socialist revolution. The dictatorship of the Stalinist bureaucracy grows as a result of the backward state of the U.S.S.R. (the predominance of the peasantry) and of the delay of the proletarian revolution in the West (the absence of independent revolutionary parties of the proletariat). In its turn the domination of the Stalinist bureaucracy led not only to the degeneration of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the U.S.S.R., but also to a dreadful weakening of the proletarian vanguard of the whole world. The contradiction between the progressive role of the Soviet State and the reactionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy presents itself as one of the manifestations of the “law of unequal development”. We are forced to make this historically-given contradiction our point of departure in our revolutionary policy.
The so-called “friends” of the Soviet Union (left democrats, pacifists, Brandlerites and their ilk) repeat in chorus with the functionaries of the C.I. that the struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy, that is above all, the criticism of its false policy, “renders aid to the counter-revolution”. This is a point of view of lackies of the bureaucracy but not of revolutionaries. The Soviet Union cannot be defended internally as well as externally except by means of a correct policy; all other considerations have a secondary importance or are simply lying phrases.
The present C.P.S.U. is not a party; it is an administrative apparatus in the hands of an uncontrolled bureaucracy. In the ranks of the C.P.S.U. and outside of it there are grouped dispersed elements of two principal parties; proletarian and Bonapartist-Thermidorian.
Floating above the two, the centrist bureaucracy carries on a struggle of extermination against the Bolshevik-Leninists. While from time to time coming into sharp conflict with their Thermidorian, half-allies, the Stalinists, however, pave the road for the wiping out, the strangling and the corruption of the Bolshevik party.
If the U.S.S.R. cannot achieve socialism without the proletarian revolution in the West, without the regeneration of a real proletarian international, the Bolshevik-Leninists cannot by their own forces regenerate the Bolshevik party and save the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The defense of the Soviet Union against the danger of military intervention has now become a more urgent task than ever before. The official sections of the C.I. are impotent in this field, as they are in all others. The defense of the Soviet Union has become an empty ritual phrase in their mouths. The neglect of the C.I. covers itself with worthless comedies in the manner of the anti-Fascist congress at Paris and the anti-war congress at Amsterdam. The actual resistance of the C.I. to military intervention on the part of the imperialists will be even more insignificant than the resistance it has put up against Hitler. To nourish any illusions on this subject means to march with eyes closed towards the catastrophe. For an active defense of the Soviet Union it is necessary to have genuine revolutionary organizations, independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy, standing on their own feet and having support among the masses.
The appearance and the development of such revolutionary organizations, their struggle for the Soviet Union, their constant favoring of the united front with the Stalinists against intervention and counter-revolution, – all that will have an immense importance on the internal development of the Soviet Republic. The more acute the dangers at home and abroad become and the greater the force represented by the independent organization of the international proletarian vanguard, the less the Stalinists insofar as they remain in power, will be able to reject the united front. The new relationship of forces will have to weaken the dictatorship of the bureaucracy, strengthen the Bolshevik-Leninists inside the U.S.S.R. and open an incomparably more favorable perspective for the Workers Republic as a whole.
Only the creation of a Marxist international, completely independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy and politically opposed to it, can save the U.S.S.R. from collapse by connecting its future fate with the fate of the world proletarian revolution.
The bureaucratic charlatans (and their lackeys, such as the Brandlerites) speak of our “liquidationism”; with neither sense nor scruples they repeat words torn out of the old Bolshevik vocabulary. Liquidationism was known as a current which denied the necessity of an illegal party under “constitutional” czarism, by trying to replace revolutionary struggle with adaptation to counter-revolutionary “legality”. What have we in common with the liquidators? It would be more opportune on this occasion to call to mind the ultimatists (Bogdanov and others) who completely recognized the necessity for an illegal organization, but who made it the instrument of a hopelessly false policy; they posed as their immediate task after the vanquishing of the revolution, the preparation of armed insurrection. Lenin did not hesitate to break with them, although there were many irreproachable revolutionaries in their ranks (the best of them later returned to the ranks of Bolshevism.)
No less false are the statements of the Stalinists and their Brandlerite lackeys that the Left Opposition is creating an “August” conference against “Bolshevism”. They mean by this designation the attempt made in 1912 – one of the numerous attempts of its kind – to unite the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks; let us recall that Stalin made a similar attempt not in August 1912, but in March 1917! In order for the analogy to have a grain of sense one would first of all have to recognize the Stalinist bureaucracy as the representative of Bolshevism; secondly, it would require us to pose the question of the unification of the Second and Third Internationals. But there is no question of either one or of the other. The charlatanesque analogy aims to mask the fact that the Brandlerite opportunists are trying to get into good graces with Stalinist centrism on the basis of reciprocal amnesty, whilst the Bolshevik-Leninists pose as their task the building of a proletarian party on the foundation of principles verified in the greatest struggles, victories and defeats of the imperialist epoch.
The task of these theses is to call upon the comrades to consider completed, the present historic stage and to mark out a new perspective for work. But what has been said above still does not predetermine the next practical steps, the concrete changes in policy, the rhythms and the methods of the transition to the new road. It is only after having assured agreement of principle concerning the new orientation – and previous experience permits us to believe that such an agreement will be reached amongst us – that the concrete tactical questions, conforming to the conditions in the different countries, can be placed on the order of the day. In any case, it is not a question of immediately proclaiming new parties and an independent international, but of preparing it. The new perspective means that counting on “reform” and demanding the reintegration of the Oppositionists into the political parties should be definitely discarded as utopian and reactionary. The daily work should take on an independent character determined by the possibilities and the forces at hand and not by the formal notion of “faction”. The Left Opposition finally ceases to consider itself and to work as an “Opposition”. It becomes an independent organization which makes its own road. Not only does it create its fractions in the social democracy and the Stalinist parties, but it carries on independent work among the non-party and unorganized workers. It creates its basis of support in the trade unions independent of the trade union policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Where and when conditions are favorable, it participates in elections under its own banner. Towards the reformist and centrist organizations including the Stalinists, it guides itself on the general principles of the policy of the united front. Especially and above all, it applies the policy of he united front to defend the Soviet Union from external intervention and from internal counter-revolution.
Last updated on: 5 January 2016