Leon Trotsky‎ > ‎1930‎ > ‎

Leon Trotsky 19300818 Letter to Max Shachtman

Leon Trotsky: Letter to Max Shachtman

August 18, 1930

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 13. Supplement (1929-1933), New York 1979, p. 45-48, title: “We Should Proceed as Democratically as Possible”]

Dear Comrade Shachtman:

1. Of course it is very regrettable that The Militant has been forced to cut back to a biweekly. But, in any case, this is no catastrophe. I am only a bit concerned about a purely technical symptom that sometimes also has political significance. The proofreading in the last issue is miserable. This may simply be coincidental, but sometimes it is a sign of demoralization among the editorial board and sometimes a crisis in the organization begins with neglect of detail work. I am sure that this is not the case with the [American] League.

2. I regret that all of our financial plans have come to naught. Rieder has completely botched up the Yiddish edition. And, as I see, you haven’t been able to place chapters from the new book in the foreign-language press. Scribner’s [U.S. publisher] writes me that the crisis has been very detrimental to the sale of the autobiography. He has sold only four thousand copies so far.

3. On the French Opposition: The reports on the crisis which have reached you seem to be very exaggerated. Rosmer has not resigned. He is on leave now and will resume his post in a few weeks. As always the conflict left the comrades with a bitter taste in their mouths, but I trust that in time the positive results will outweigh the negative. Many questions have been clarified by the crisis, many positions made more precise. The work of the [French] League has not been impeded, it is going forward and with success. We are expecting Comrade Molinier’s arrival here shortly, Naville will come later. I will be able to give you more concrete information about the personal aspects then. I believe, however, that the crisis has been basically overcome both in its political and personal aspects.

4. The situation with international work is much worse. All of my attempts to determine what actually was decided at the April conference have yielded unsatisfactory results since, as I understand, no formal decisions were made at this congress and no minutes were kept. (Comrade Frankel corrects me in this respect saying that detailed minutes and written decisions must be available.) In any case I have not received them yet. The April conference was more or less a misunderstanding. The work was summarily shoved off on the French League without determining the precise division of labor. Leaving aside the question of a political manifesto, the technical-organizational aspects should have been taken care of thoroughly. I am making a point of this because I am very afraid that a lot of the same kind of sloppiness is practiced on the national level, doing incredible harm to our work. Bureaucracy has its good side too: exactness, punctuality, precise resolutions, etc. This aspect of “bureaucracy” is something the Opposition should begin to acquire.

5. You write that the International Secretariat should really decide the question of my circular letter. You maintain, and not unjustly, that that is what it was formed to do. Yes, that is the way it should be. But, as I have said, despite a dozen letters, I have been unable to find out what the actual decisions were. There were certain nuances of difference on a number of international questions. These nuances are absolutely unavoidable and to a certain extent provide a stimulus for the movement. But there must be an organization that can go from discussion of nuances to decision and action. I had hoped with your collaboration, dear Shachtman, to find the road to this in Paris. But since this was not the case, there was no way other than to turn directly to the Opposition and clarify the situation through membership opinion. In any case I did achieve with this circular letter what I had been unable to achieve through countless private letters. A separate editorial board for the International Bulletin has been formed and I am writing here from day to day for the first issue.

6. You write that my circular letter will be communicated to the members of the leadership. Of course you know best how to proceed in America. In principle, however, I think we should proceed as democratically as possible. What we have in the ranks of the Opposition are cadres; they must be trained, trained to the point of complete self-reliance. That will not come about by their believing in a mighty International Secretariat, but rather through their taking part on all questions in all actions which will gradually lead to the creation of a capable center.

7. On the Bordigists: In the most recent issue of Lutte des classes you will find the most important documents which explain the state of the two groups of the Italian Opposition. Relations with the Paris Bordigists are a bit strained. Here too the situation would be better if it had not been handled with too little democracy, i.e., if the negotiations at the leadership level had long ago been supplemented by enlightening all French and Italian Oppositionists. Nothing forces the leaders to define their ideas and actions so much as the fact that they are under observation by and hence under the control of the public opinion of their members. This rule is not to be applied just to the Stalinists but to ourselves as well. That should never be forgotten.

The new Italian group is very active and seems to have well-trained and capable forces at its disposal. It is our intention to have both groups represented by one or, if worst comes to worst, two comrades in the International Secretariat. If the Paris Bordigists weren’t so sectarian, they would have to hail the new Opposition as a sign of their political success. Unfortunately they place great importance on maintaining their position as oppositional aristocracy at any price.

In any case, I don’t think you have to alter your attitude toward the New York Bordigists. In my opinion you must, however, discuss the contested questions based on the material in the latest issue of Lutte des classes quite openly in the organization and in the presence of the Bordigists.

8. On a united front of the three Communist organizations in the U.S. Of course it is out of the question for us to enter into any kind of bloc with the right [Lovestoneites] that the party does not participate in. The most important element in Gitlow’s document is the admission that his organization has tactical differences with the party, but both tactical and political differences with us. That is, despite all of the Stalinists’ claims to the contrary, the rightists recognize that they are far closer to the centrists [Stalinists] than to us. This must be turned to good account politically. Winitsky sent me the big resolution on “Trotskyism” from the rightists’ national conference. It is nine pages long and I’ve only glanced through it. I will comment on it in an article in the near future. The fact that you have forced these people to make their standpoint more precise is in itself a large gain for us.

9. The matters concerning the Russian Bulletin I am turning over to Lyova [Leon Sedov] since that’s his department. He’ll write to you about it soon.

10. I received the fishing line without problems. Maestro Charalambos tested it and found it to be excellent. I hope that American technology will live up to its reputation in the coming game fishing season.

My best greetings to all our friends,


L. Trotsky