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Leon Trotsky 19300300 Answers to Questions from the USSR

Leon Trotsky: Answers to Questions from the USSR

March 1930

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 2, 1930, New York 1975, p. 130-134]

Here are some brief replies to a number of interesting letters and questions.

1. At the time of the Tenth Congress, Vladimir Ilyich had a very pessimistic view of the situation, admitting that we were close to disaster. Nevertheless, he felt it was necessary to conduct a resolute struggle against the syndicalist tendencies of the Workers' Opposition: "If we are to perish, it is paramount that we preserve the ideological line and provide a lesson for our successors." This we must never forget, even in hopeless circumstances. Moreover, the present situation is by no means hopeless.

2. Whoever says, "There is no longer any way out, no matter what, except through complete collectivization and the administrative liquidation of classes," is developing a philosophy of despair and suggesting that we rush headlong into the abyss with our eyes closed. We cannot take this course.

3. Our fundamental slogan, encompassing all our immediate tasks — economic, political, for the party, and for the Comintern — is this: "Timely and orderly retreat from adventurist positions." This means:

A. In agriculture: To delay further collectivization, explaining to the peasants the limitations of our resources. To shift from complete collectivization to selective collectivization, concentrating our efforts and resources on the most viable and promising collective farms. To call a halt to de-kulakization. To substitute for it a tough system of contracts with the kulaks (the development and generalization of our idea of compulsory grain loans). (The kulak has been sufficiently panic-stricken politically to insure the meeting of contracts for a year or two.)

B. In industry: To call a halt to the racetrack-gallop approach to industrialization. To discard the slogan "five-year plan in four years.” To revise the distribution of resources between consumption and accumulation, for the purpose of seriously improving the living standards of the working masses. To stop, in deed and not just in words, turning out quantity at the expense of quality (here a catastrophe threatens).

C. In finances: The strictest fiscal discipline. Discontinuation of all excessive expenditures, even at the cost of suspending many projects that have been started. The aim: to avert a general crisis and stabilize the ruble

D. In foreign trade: To make the most of the menacing rise in unemployment, especially in Germany and Britain, to obtain credits and make planned orders for agricultural equipment, machinery, etc., in exchange for the future products of collectivized agriculture. This kind of "international contracting" will help to fertilize with technology the collective farms that were created by administrative fiat, and it will ease the excessive burden placed on the five-year plan, especially in the area of agricultural machinery (recent decisions).

E. In the Comintern: To bring a quick end to the adventurist ballyhoo about "red days." To put forth transitional demands, centering first and foremost on the fight against unemployment To work out a variant of the five-year plan aiming at the broadest possible collaboration with the industries of Germany and Britain, where unemployment is particularly high and where reformists are in power; and to mobilize on this basis the unemployed and the working class in general against [German] Social Democratic and [British] Labour governments on the basis of the united-front policy.

F. In the internal regime in the party: To stop the dissolution of the party into the class in the USSR. To condemn Stalinist "self-criticism" as a totally degenerate form of Bonapartist plebiscite technique within the party. To open a free discussion in the party of the "general line," going back to 1923; and on this basis to prepare for the party's Sixteenth Congress. Only in this way can the party, which in essence has been liquidated, be revived and rendered capable of meeting the crises whose onset has been hastened by the policies of the last seven years. Otherwise the main danger can turn out to come from the party itself.

G. In the area of theory: To discard the theory of socialism in one country. This theory is the basis for the policies of complete collectivization and the racetrack-gallop approach to industrialization. The same theory reduces the Comintern to acting as a frontier guard for the USSR (alas, a bad one at that).

These are the most general ideas which need to be elaborated upon with serious effort. In our present situation — being illegal, dispersed, etc. — the Opposition can hardly accomplish this work of elaboration in detail Therefore it is most important to emphasize the general direction of our line. Its theoretical basis has been presented in a pamphlet which is now being completed.

Do we "support" or "not support" the centrists? This question should not be posed scholastically. We now cry out to the leadership for all to hear: "Stop before it is too late!" That is what we support! If we do not ourselves take the initiative for an orderly retreat from the positions of adventurism, tomorrow that retreat will take on a panicky and catastrophic character. It will then roll right over the heads of the right-wingers (who, however, have already decapitated themselves). There is no need to say that in the event of civil war or foreign intervention we will stand in the same ranks as the centrist bureaucracy against our common enemies. We refer, of course, to that part of the centrist bureaucracy that does not itself go over to the enemy.

Some comrades try to present a complete theoretical formula for centrism and dogmatically define its social base; on this ground the possibility of centrism "shifting to the left" is denied. This is a misunderstanding. The "essence" of centrism* if it can be said to have an essence, is its constant movement back and forth between the proletarian line and petty-bourgeois reformism with its corresponding ideological line. Centrism is always either moving to the left or moving to the right. It is never "just itself." Without having to abandon its organized proletarian base, thanks to the apparatus, Stalinist centrism sought a support in the middle peasantry in the struggle against us. But the middle peasantry is not a base since it is also always moving between the proletariat and the kulak. "Complete" collectivization is not only an adventurist stage of left centrism but, within certain limits, an impulsive, spontaneous move on the part of the middle peasantry frightened by the reprisals against the kulaks.

We cannot forget even for a minute that the Opposition represents an international current. Over the course of the last year Europe, America, and China had the chance for virtually the first time to become acquainted with the living ideas and slogans of the Bolshevik-Leninists in the persons of certain advanced elements of communist circles. Thanks to this, a very serious regroupment has taken place on the basis of ideological differentiation. The Opposition has gotten on its feet ideologically on an international scale. The political fruits produced by this year's labor will show themselves more and more plainly in the near future. The "quality" that has been won will be converted into "quantity."

The French Opposition, which is marching in the vanguard, has a serious militant weekly and a serious theoretical monthly magazine. They are serving as a basis for a regroupment of forces. La Vérité (the weekly) is even to a certain extent fulfilling the role of an international organ of the Opposition.

In Spain the Opposition has had very great success. The majority of the Oppositionist exiles have returned to their homeland.

The emigre Bordigists are publishing the biweekly newspaper Prometeo.

In Germany the Marxist Left Opposition has finally dissolved its ties with the Urbahns faction through a split in the Leninbund. Within the next few days, its Marxist wing is expected to unite once and for all with the Wedding group (a platform for unity has been worked out), and to undertake the publication of a weekly.

The Czechoslovak group, which came into existence several months ago, is working with great energy; the first issue of its publication should be out very soon.

In Belgium developments are being held back by internal disputes. An excellent workers' organization in Charleroi bases itself on La Vérité.

In Austria there are two Opposition publications. Talks are presently under way on the question of uniting the three Opposition groups around a common platform.

Hungarian, Spanish, Jewish, and other emigre groups have united around La Vérité.

In America a good weekly newspaper, The Militant, is coming out, published by its own press, which is also proceeding to put out pamphlets and books. The Opposition in the United States and Canada is united around The Militant.

In Mexico a lithographed bulletin is coming out.

In Argentina a recently formed group has published pamphlets and is raising funds for its own periodical.

There are groups in other South American countries as well.

In China two Left Opposition groups are functioning. They have unfailingly published all the most important works of the Russian Opposition in Chinese.

In Britain valuable contacts have recently been made.

In Paris issue number 6 of the International Bulletin will come out in the next few days. Its task is to prepare for the international conference.

The slogan of the moment is found there too: "For the most rapid retreat, as orderly as possible, from the positions of adventurism to those of revolutionary Bolshevik realism."