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Leon Trotsky 19300621 Letter to all sections of the International Left Opposition

Leon Trotsky: Letter to all sections of the International Left Opposition

June 21, 1930

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 2, 1930, New York 1975, p. 290-297, title: “Circular Letter Number One”]

To all sections of the International Left Opposition

Dear Comrades:

The lines of communication between the national sections of the Communist Left Opposition are, as before, extremely tenuous. The International Bulletin has still not appeared. And yet important tactical questions that must be dealt with continue to pile up, right to the present time. Individual correspondence with comrades is becoming less and less adequate for this purpose. At present, I can see no other course of action but to address myself to all the national sections with this letter in which I wish to reply to a number of questions that have been asked of me in various letters and, in addition, pose some questions of my own which, in my opinion, merit collective discussion.

1. The Opposition is wasting considerable time. This is particularly clear in the formation of the International Opposition. The last thing I have in mind by writing these lines is to accuse anyone personally. I want to speak about our errors and our defaults, for which we are all responsible, and which we absolutely must correct.

The formal basis for an international unification of the Opposition was proposed almost a year ago. However, this unification has not yet been carried out in practice to this day. A preliminary conference was held in Paris in April. But in the two and a half months since then no practical results from this conference have been manifested.

It was decided to publish an information bulletin. The first issue has not appeared to date. How can this be explained? Of course, we suffer from an acute lack of forces. But this is not the main problem. And what about the Opposition's time and forces that are now being wasted in overcoming this dispersion of forces, in private correspondence about individual questions, in correcting errors resulting from a lack of information? All these forces would easily suffice to publish a weekly international bulletin. I am not even mentioning the fact that there are plenty of forces that are ignored and not utilized at all.

The main reason for this loss of months, almost a year, in the formation of the international organization is, in my opinion, the lack of understanding that can be observed among a number of comrades about the reciprocal relationship between national and international organizations of the proletariat. Among certain elements in the Opposition the struggle against bureaucratic centralism has revived a non-Marxist conception of the reciprocal relationship between the national sections and the international organization, according to which the national sections are the foundation and walls and the international organization is the roof to be added at the end. This point of view was expressed in a particularly naive manner by the Vienna Mahnruf group, which refused to join any international organization whatsoever until the time that it could no longer grow on a national level as a result of its own efforts. On the basis of what program, what methods, under what banner this group aspires to grow nationally no one knows, and it seems that they themselves don't know. They must imagine that the workers should place their confidence in an unknown group with no principled character, and that after this the group will take care of its international character and thus its national character as well, for one without the other would be absurd.

The Italian Prometeo group comes very close to this point of view. Among some of the Belgian and French comrades there was a strong opposition to a "premature" international organization. Moreover, this opposition spawned the same erroneous views mentioned above. It is true that this point of view has not always found open theoretical expression. Most often it takes the form of a silent, semiconscious opposition, continual postponements, failure to carry out work, and a serious waste of time. It is necessary to put an end to this.

2. It is impossible to avoid mentioning here the fact that the April preliminary conference considered it possible not to publish any statement of principles (declaration, manifesto, or resolution). No national conference would have acted in such a manner, for how can you fail to tell the workers why a conference took place? But as far as this international conference is concerned, the comrades found it possible to make this decision for purely technical reasons, and it is absolutely clear that an enormous error was committed in this regard. The most modest international document issued by the conference would have been a formidable weapon in the hands of every national section. It could have been published or distributed in printed form at workers' meetings, etc. Explaining the decision not to publish such a manifesto on the grounds of incidental, technical reasons is not right. The technical and incidental reasons would not have been able to prevail except as a consequence of insufficient attention to the principled side of the question.

3. The conference decided to publish a bulletin, twice a month if possible. However, as has already been said, after two and a half months not a single issue has appeared.*

It would not be correct to explain this fact by a lack of forces alone. On the whole, the bulletin demands very little in extra forces. Establishing an international theoretical and political organ is at present beyond our means. But it is not a question of this. The International Bulletin should be an organ for extensive international information and discussion. Three-quarters of the correspondence on tactical and theoretical questions now carried on among national groups and comrades on an individual basis should be contained within the bulletin. The minutes of the national sections would be the most important part of its contents. It would be sufficient to form a technical editorial staff for this task. And for this we have the necessary forces, especially in Paris, where in addition to the French organization there are Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Jewish, and Indochinese groups. There are also several comrades of other nationalities. From these groups it would be quite possible to form an international editorial staff for the bulletin which would work under the general direction of the International Secretariat. The shortcomings and errors of a young editorial staff, inevitable at the beginning, would be corrected in time. In any case, if we had taken this action six months ago, we would now certainly have a good weekly bulletin that would form the axis of the entire intellectual life of the International Opposition. The organizational form indicated above will not only guarantee the regular publication of the bulletin, but will also allow the editorial staff to attain independence — which is especially indispensable where an organ of international information and discussion is concerned.

We very often write (and with good reason) that the Comintern is letting revolutionary situations slip by. But for the Opposition to let time slip by is a sin of the same sort even if on a smaller scale. To avoid letting revolutionary situations slip by in the future, it is necessary to avoid letting everyday situations slip by. Let us not postpone indefinitely the steps that should be taken today.

4. Recently in the German section we have had sharp disputes that ended in the withdrawal of Comrades Neumann, Joko, and Grylewicz from the leadership. This action, like a number of actions that preceded it, really has the character of a genuine literary and bureaucratic intrigue of the classical type. The comrades mentioned above gave no hint of the principled reasons for their withdrawal. All efforts that were made to correct their mistaken action came to naught. Naturally, these comrades will now set about finding "principled" reasons for their action, that is to say, they will follow the same course as Paz, who started with literary quarrels, drew them out with theoretical mishmash, and ended up by defecting.

Of course, we should support the present leadership of the United German Opposition and direct all our efforts toward helping it carry out responsible work. But this is still not enough. We must draw some general conclusions from the things that have happened, conclusions of a principled as well as a practical nature.

It has already been written more than once that in the past not only Marxist, revolutionary elements have come into the Opposition, for principled reasons, but also individualist, petty-bourgeois, and lumpen elements who cannot tolerate discipline and are incapable of carrying out collective work. One could list many examples. Moreover, given the fact that for a number of years the Opposition has led an exclusively literary existence, it has cultivated within its ranks closed circles and literary arrogance characterized by inattention of these elements to workers' organizations. A continual state of opposition can and does breed conceit and grand airs, and also breeds people who always use the terms "masses," "proletariat," "masses," but pay no attention to the individual representatives of the masses, even those in their own ranks, and do not try to draw them in and work with them on the basis of real party democracy.

At the same time the Opposition press has a tendency to raise itself above the Opposition and let itself be guided exclusively by the viewpoints of a few writers. This is a dangerous situation which must be confronted right from the beginning because it is one of the most dangerous sources of bureaucratism. The means of exerting firm control over the press and the means of reeducating Opposition writers in the spirit of proletarian collectivism could hardly be the same today in all countries. But if the existence of the problem is clearly seen and means are sought for combating it, steps can be taken.

For example, workers' press committees can be formed. These committees should meet periodically, have access to the correspondence addressed to the editors, listen to and analyze all the comments made to the editors, and when the committee requests, the editors should publish all the committee's resolutions. If these committees are properly organized, they can become an indispensable tool for the proletarian reeducation of the editors as well as the theoretical education of the workers who are members of the committee. I think that the Opposition journals would have done well in many cases if before printing their articles they had read them to workers in the "ranks," not in order to instruct the workers, but to learn from them how to write for workers. That is why it is necessary to listen attentively to their questions, comments, the development of their ideas, the examples they cite, etc.

5. The question of primary importance — the relationship between the Communist Left Opposition and the official party — does not always and everywhere have a clear and decisive solution in practice.

In the ranks of the Left Opposition, no one defends an orientation toward a second party.** But simply rejecting an incorrect position is not enough. It is necessary to actively struggle to attain a correct position; that is, set a clear, true course for the regeneration of,the official party.

The existing Communist parties were born as a result of events like the world war, the betrayal of the social democracy, the Russian Revolution, and the revolutionary crisis of postwar capitalist society. These are four monumental conditions, the combination of which made possible the rapid formation and development of the Comintern.

It is true that the effect of the conditions mentioned above has abated now. But to believe that these factors, and the traditions, ties, and mass organizations they have created, can without new, equivalent events be changed by speeches and articles testifies to a fatal literary subjectivism, that is, a complete lack of understanding of the dialectic of political development of the class, in the spirit of Souvarine.

There is no question that incorrect leadership has weakened and continues to weaken the Communist Party. But the unending crisis of capitalist society and the social democracy's politics of betrayal will increasingly push the workers toward the banner of communism. Only the fall of the Soviet republic, which would be the greatest catastrophe for the whole world proletariat, could create a fundamentally new situation. The Comintern would be reduced to debris, and proletarian revolutionaries would have to start all over again in many cases. But our objective is not the fall of Soviet power, as the hired bureaucratic swindlers claim, but its regeneration, its reinforcement, and its defense. And the very same thing is true for the official Communist Party.

As far as I can tell, our German comrades have had a perfectly correct position on this: they treat the official Communist Party as their party. During the elections (in Saxony, for example) they carry out an energetic campaign for the party slate. At the same time, on the basis of this collaboration, they conduct an implacable struggle against the leadership and its politics.

Comrade Roman Well writes me that some French comrades, while recognizing this tactic as correct for Germany, consider it inapplicable to France because the French Communist Party is weaker and is declining systematically. In my opinion, this manner of posing the question is false and politically dangerous. In France, all of the dimensions of the organization were and remain on a smaller scale than in Germany, but that does not constitute a fundamental difference. The French Communist Party polled more than a million votes in the legislative elections (on the basis of male suffrage alone); during the repression the workers took up very large collections for I'Humanité; the circulation of the paper fluctuates around two hundred thousand, etc. Closing one's eyes to these facts and belittling their importance is self-deception and nothing else. The orientation of the French Opposition in its relationship to the Communist Party can and should be the same as the orientation of the Opposition in Germany. The only other road is that of Souvarine. There is no intermediate position for a political line. A middle road would bring only confusion.

The indisputably great successes of the French Opposition could have been even greater, that is, they would have had a more profound effect on the French workers, if at the time of the sharp repression directed against the party the Opposition had solidarized itself with the party more firmly, decisively, and aggressively before the government and in the eyes of the masses. This was not done and it was a serious error. The same goes for the ’ election campaigns. It is not enough to renounce running candidates of our own in principle. It is necessary to show the Communist workers that we do everything in our power to assure the victory of the official candidates, that is, that we act as if they were our own candidates.

One of the Czechoslovakian comrades, Zvon, citing the call to the workers issued by the German Opposition ("You should help us correct the party's course … ") expresses the opinion that the Czechoslovakian comrades instead will decide to take the following tone: "The workers are too little acquainted with us," he writes, "they have no reason to place confidence in us, and this is why we do not have the right to demand that they support us as 'saviors.'" Of course the essence of the matter does not lie in one or another turn of phrase. The orientation of the German comrades toward the party seems correct, as I have already said. But there is a basic political and psychological consideration contained in the formulation of the Czechoslovakian comrade. To say to the Communist workers in the name of a young group that has not yet had sufficient exposure (and this applies to the whole Opposition), "We are taking it upon ourselves to build a good party for you; follow us," means showing a lack of understanding of the objective situation as well as of the psychology of revolutionary workers. Especially the French workers, who have learned from their past, are less inclined than any to naively follow literary messianism, and they are right. A correct position might be formulated in the following manner: "Comrade workers, we wish to help you, that is to say, to fight side by side with you in the ranks, employing our mutual forces to correct the errors, sweep out the worthless leaders, and regenerate the party." The worst possible position on this question is a position of equivocation, evasion, and reticence.

6. Our press gives information, perhaps less than it could, on the internal life of the Opposition organizations. Of course, not everything can be said openly; that is why it is so important to have a mutual exchange of information through the International Bulletin. Up till now, we have learned too little about what forms the participation of the Opposition took in the mass May Day demonstrations, what mistakes were made, what successes scored. The comrades' experience in participating in election campaigns also deserves more detailed explanation as well as criticism.

In fact we need honest self-criticism and at the same time criticism on an international scale. The Communist League in France carried out an audacious action — a street demonstration against the bloody repression in Indochina. As far as one can tell, the execution of this action gave rise to differences among the French comrades. The question is important enough for the whole International Opposition to be informed about the French comrades' experience and their disagreements. That is the only way the left wing can educate and temper itself.

7. The Opposition needs a democratic internal regime. The cadres can only be educated if all questions are debated by the whole Opposition, without fear of "lack of preparation," insufficiency on the plane of theory, etc. Revolutionaries grow as their tasks become greater. Questions of general revolutionary tactics and internal questions facing the Opposition should be the property of every member of the Opposition organization. Experience testifies clearly enough that decisions made in the corridors and deliberations in closed circles yield nothing, lead to nothing. Only keeping the ranks of the Opposition informed on all questions, including those in dispute, will immediately change the situation, introduce clarity, force each comrade to follow his line of thinking to its conclusion, and thereby push things forward.

Against literary arrogance, against the policy of narrow circles, for real democracy within the Opposition — these are our most important slogans.

With communist greetings,

L. Trotsky

* It seems possible to hope that the first issue will appear shortly. But this of course does not change anything, for there are no guarantees that the problem will be posed in the correct manner in the future.

** I should mention here that one year ago I allowed conditionally for the development of the Belgian and the United States Oppositions into parties. In those cases I made a wrong prognosis because of insufficient information.