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Leon Trotsky 19351118 Letter to Georges Vereecken

Leon Trotsky: Letter to Georges Vereecken

November 18, 1935

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 8, 1935-36, New York ²1977, p. 193-196, title: “Tactical Questions and Splits]

Comrade Vereecken:

I have already replied to the general questions raised in your letter in the article “Sectarianism, Centrism, and the Fourth International” (largely directed against your article in August and partly in reply to your co-thinkers at Anvers). I will also request that a copy of my article on sectarianism be sent to you.

If it is correct that you are in agreement with us on the principled questions and that you broke with us only on a tactical question, which you now consider an episode of the past — this admission is a merciless condemnation of your policy. How can one split and compromise the only Marxist internationalist organization because of an episodic tactical difference?

You yourself refer to the fact that we have not expelled the Dutch section, which was against the “entry,” and have even introduced an “opponent of the entry” into the IS. Exactly! But this argument is also entirely directed against you. It shows that we have had and we have shown neither intolerance nor haste but on the contrary a sincere aspiration to continue to work amicably with comrades temporarily separated from us on a tactical question. Democratic centralism, to which you so imprudently and incorrectly refer, presupposes a discipline of action and does not tolerate sectarian whims.

You demand a discussion on the results of the French experience. Being separated from us, you are, alas, a century behind the times. The successes of our French section are so striking and conclusive, especially in recent months (do not forget that only the leaders have been expelled), that we consider it ridiculous to waste any time in a discussion of last year’s snow.

It is by such a discussion, however, that the Oehler group continues to disrupt our party. The leadership of the American party, the IS, and we have done everything possible to convince the Oehler group of their false position. We have not had any success. Sabotaging the party, remaining in contact with the people who have betrayed and with the deserters, Bauer and Company, not submitting to discipline, circulating the vilest slanders about our international organization, about our French and Belgian sections, the Oehler group demands for itself … democratic centralism, that is to say, the right to sit in judgment over the overwhelming majority. As far as I can judge from here the expulsion of the Oehler group has become absolutely necessary. If only episodic tactical differences are involved, then how explain the monstrous sharpness of the struggle? I explain it thus: agreement with a principle has only a purely formal character; what is involved is the last convulsion of sectarianism against Bolshevik policy.

You speak not only of the Spartacus group but of all the opponents of the “entry.” Whom have you in mind? You must enumerate very precisely all the groups of your co-thinkers in all the countries. For my part, I will say that none of these groups have signed the Open Letter for the Fourth International. Most of them are flirting with the centrists (SAP, etc.) Lhuiller has entered the Socialist Party but there he has voted not for the resolutions of the Bolshevik-Leninists but for the resolution of Marceau Pivert. With whom do you solidarize yourself on the international arena? We must know this precisely when rapprochement is spoken of: you are well aware of whom we are in solidarity with.

You will agree that it would show light-mindedness to unify now only in order to split during the war, in illegality, etc. Organizational tactics, turns, and maneuvers — there are still many of them before us, in the event of war as well. It is not at all excluded that precisely during a war the Bolshevik-Leninists of this or that country will find themselves obliged to temporarily enter a reformist party. Must we every time, in illegality, renew the arch-abstract discussion on “capitulation to the Second International”? We do not want to do this. It is time to grow up. It is in this sense that I wrote that policy during war is the continuation of policy during peace.

I do not at all wish to deny that Spartacus has favorably distinguished itself from the other opponents of the “entry” because: (1) it signed the Open Letter, (2) it aspires to a rapprochement with the Bolshevik-Leninists, instead of systematically slandering them, as the Bauers, the Lhuillers, the Fields, the Weisbords, the Oehlers have done and still do. That is why every one of us cannot but welcome the participation of your group in all the preparatory work for the Fourth International. But as for our faction, the Bolshevik-Leninists, we are here obliged to be more rigorous. Your article of August showed that you did not understand the depths of the mistake which you committed and that you are even inclined to justify it by repeating the false accusations of the SAP and of the worst sectarian groupings. In this case it is better to postpone unification with our faction until experience gives serious guarantees that future unity will be solid.

Now on the subject of your practical proposals. It would be very desirable, of course, to convene a conference of all the organizations that are for the Fourth International, but it would be hardly possible to limit it to Europe; the participation of the United States, Canada, and to the extent possible, South Africa, would be extremely desirable, if not indispensable. In any case, there can be no disagreements on this question.

Your second proposal — to convene simultaneously a broader conference of all the opponents of national defense, etc. — appears to me under present conditions not only superfluous but even harmful. Moreover, whom do you have in mind? Obviously, the same SAP and its friends. It is astonishing that our critics and opponents from the left show such an inclination toward this harmful centrist clique which is the SAP. Consider who is behind it. The only serious and mass party which at one time belonged to the IAG was the Norwegian Labor Party. But it has long since turned its back on the SAP; its policy is directed toward a rapprochement with the Swedish, Danish, and British labor parties. The small Mot-Dag group is now, as far as is known, in a state of complete disintegration, and moreover, in general, does not have any political value. Doriot has broken off his romance with Walcher. The CC of our Dutch party has decided to break with the SAP and the IAG. There is a crisis in the British Independent Labour Party: the Stalinists have left the party; the Leninists have been very much strengthened; and one can anticipate with certainty that the rupture of the ILP with the Comintern will force it (not without a new crisis) toward the Fourth International. There remains the Swedish party; I have very little information on it but I think that it also will go through the evolution of the other centrist organizations. To attempt to revive the corpse of the IAG by an international conference and a completely sterile discussion between four walls with the old incorrigible centrists — now, that has no meaning. We have had enough of these futile “discussions for self-amusement.” We must go to the masses with the slogan of the Fourth International.

Or perhaps you want to draw into this broad “conference” the Bordigists, the Hennaut group, etc? This is even less useful. If these people have up until now not understood where they should go, they must be left to their own fate.

Fraternal greetings,