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Leon Trotsky 19300918 On the Declaration by the Indochinese Oppositionists

Leon Trotsky: On the Declaration by the Indochinese Oppositionists

September 18, 1930

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 3, 1930-1931, New York 1973, p. 29-33]

The declaration, as far as I can judge from my totally insufficient acquaintance with conditions in Indochina, in its main outlines correctly expresses the tasks of the Indochinese Communists. The following observations have the aim of adding to the declaration, making it more precise, and eliminating possible misunderstandings.

1. It is necessary to speak more clearly, more fully, and more precisely about the agrarian question: the role and significance of the semi-feudal landed proprietors and of those with large landholdings in general; and about how much land the revolution would have at its disposal and as a fund for land distribution if it expropriated the large landed proprietors in the interests of the poorest peasants. The peasant question is left out of the declaration altogether.

Unless the regime of colonial enslavement is overthrown, the expropriation of the large and medium-size landowners is impossible. These two questions, the national question and the land question, must be linked in the closest possible way in the consciousness of the workers and peasants. Of course this question requires detailed study. Possibly such research has already been carried out At any rate the declaration should contain a clear formulation on the agrarian revolution.

2. On the second page of the declaration it is said that the masses "believed naively that national independence could free them from poverty; but in the recent period a great many of them have seen their error." This is obviously an incorrect formulation. National independence, as can be seen from the declaration itself, is a necessary element of the Indochinese revolution. However it is hardly likely that the entire Indochinese peasantry has come to understand the necessity for the revolutionary overthrow of French imperialist rule And it is all the more doubtful that the Indochinese masses have already understood the inadequacy and illusoriness of a liberation that would be solely national. Here the Communists have before them a vast arena for agitation and propaganda. It would be very dangerous to believe that the masses have already understood something which actually remains to be explained to them, or which can only be explained to them in the living context of the mass struggle. It is precisely in the interest of such explanatory work that it is necessary, as stated above, to link all the needs, demands, and protests of the peasants, for land, financial aid, against militarism, and so forth, with the struggle against foreign imperialism and its "national" agents, that is, the Indochinese bourgeoisie.

3. On page three we find the following: "Every theory of class collaboration constitutes ideological camouflage for the rule of the capitalist class." The thought expressed here is completely correct, but it is put in a way that can provide grounds for misunderstandings. We do not reject all collaboration between classes. On the contrary, there is a certain kind of class collaboration that we seek after with all our strength: that is the collaboration between the proletariat and the poor peasantry, as well as with the most oppressed and exploited lower layers of the urban petty bourgeoisie. This kind of revolutionary collaboration between classes, which can be made a reality only on the condition of an uncompromising struggle against the national bourgeoisie, is such that it transforms the proletariat into the true leader of the nation, if by the word nation is understood the overwhelming majority of the oppressed and exploited masses of the town and countryside as opposed to the antinational bloc between the propertied classes and imperialism.

4. On page four there is the statement that nationalism, "which at all times has been a reactionary ideology, can only forge new chains for the working class." Here nationalism is taken abstractly as a transcendent supra-social idea that always remains reactionary. This is neither a historical nor a dialectical way of posing the question, and it opens the door for incorrect conclusions. Nationalism has not always been a reactionary ideology, not by far, and it is not always one today either. Can one say, for example, that the nationalism of the Great French Revolution was a reactionary force in the struggle against feudal Europe? By no means. Even the nationalism of the late-arriving and cowardly German bourgeoisie in the period from 1848 to 1870 (the struggle for national unification) represented a progressive force against Bonapartism.

At the present time the nationalism of the most backward Indochinese peasant, directed against French imperialism, is a revolutionary element as opposed to the abstract and false cosmopolitanism of the Freemasons and other democratic bourgeois types, or the "internationalism" of the social democrats, who rob or help to rob the Indochinese peasant

The declaration states quite correctly that the nationalism of the bourgeoisie is a means for subordinating and deceiving the masses. But the nationalism of the mass of the people is the elementary form taken by their just and progressive hatred for the most skillful, capable, and ruthless of their oppressors, that is, the foreign imperialists. The proletariat does not have the right to turn its back on this kind of nationalism. On the contrary, it must demonstrate in practice that it is the most consistent and devoted fighter for the national liberation of Indochina.

5. Also on page four is the statement that "the Indochinese workers themselves demand" a simultaneous struggle for national independence, democratic freedoms, and socialist revolution. This formulation is open to criticism in many respects. First of all a bare reference to the opinion of the workers is not yet proof: there are various tendencies and points of view among the workers and many of them are mistaken ones. Furthermore, it is very doubtful that the Indochinese workers have actually brought the national, democratic, and socialist elements of the revolution together as a single whole in their thinking as yet Here again, a task that should just now become the main content of the work of the Communist Party is presented as one that has already been resolved. Finally, and no less importantly, it is unclear from this formulation what "democratic freedoms" are being discussed. The next sentence speaks openly about the "conquest of democratic freedoms by means of the dictatorship of the proletariat" This is, to say the least, an imprecise formulation. The concept of democratic freedoms is understood by vulgar democrats to mean freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of assembly, free elections, etc. The dictatorship of the proletariat, instead of these abstract freedoms, places in the hands of the proletariat the material means and instruments for its own emancipation (in particular the printing presses, meeting halls, etc.). On the other hand, the democratic revolution is not confined to the so-called democratic freedoms only. For the peasants the democratic revolution is first of all the solution of the land question and emancipation from the burdens of taxation and militarism, which are impossible without national liberation. For the workers the shorter working day is the keystone of democracy, for that is the only thing that can give them the opportunity to really participate in the social life of the country. All of these tasks can and will be completely solved only under the dictatorship of the proletariat, which bases itself on the semiproletarian masses of the city and countryside This, of course, is what we should be explaining to the advanced workers even now.

But the dictatorship of the proletariat is something we have yet to come to, that is, the masses numbering many, many millions have yet to be drawn to that perspective In our agitation of today, though, we are obliged to start from what exists. The struggle against the bloody regime of the French occupation should be conducted with slogans calling for thoroughgoing and consistent democracy. The Communists should be the best and bravest fighters against military injustice for freedom of speech and assembly, and for an Indochinese constituent assembly. We cannot arrive at the dictatorship of the proletariat by way of an a priori denial of democracy. Only by struggling for democracy can the Communist vanguard gather the majority of the oppressed nation around itself and in that way move toward the dictatorship which will also create the conditions for transition to a socialist revolution in inseparable connection with the movement of the world proletariat

It seems to me that much of what was said on this point in the manifesto to the Chinese Communists can also be applied to Indochina.

6. Again on page four it is stated that three communist parties and three nationalist parties recently united into a single Communist Party of Indochina. The reference to this is made in passing and takes up only two lines. However, from the point of view of the Opposition, as well as that of the Indochinese revolution as a whole, this is the central question. What do these six groups stand for — in particular, these three nationalist groups? What are their programs and social composition? Isn't there a danger that an Indochinese Kuomintang is being created under the name of the Communist Party? The declaration says quite rightly that our task in relation to this newly formed party is to introduce ideological clarity. But in order to do just that, the declaration itself should, as far as possible, define the true nature of the newly formed party more fully and precisely. Only on this basis will it be possible to determine our policy toward it.

7. The slogans with which the declaration closes (page 5) are in part too abstract and in part incomplete. They should be made more precise and enlarged upon in the light of what we have said above (agrarian question, national element, democratic slogans as transitional slogans, eight-hour day, etc.).

In my criticisms I have proceeded on the basis of full confidence in our unanimity of thought, in regard to which the declaration leaves no doubt. The aim of the observations presented here is to arrive at a more carefully formulated declaration. On the other hand it is only too obvious to me that my criticism in turn suffers from the defect of abstractness owing to my inadequate familiarity with the social structure and political history of Indochina. For that reason I am not proposing any particular formulations. My comments are presented with only one purpose in mind: to point out the direction in which more precise and concrete answers should be sought to the questions of the Indochinese revolution.