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Leon Trotsky 19350226 Letter to Henk Sneevliet

Leon Trotsky: Letter to Henk Sneevliet

February 26, 1935

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 7, 1934-1935, New York 1971, p. 187-195, title: “To Comrade Sneevliet on the IAG Conference”]

Dear Friend:

I have received your letter of February 21 on the conference of the Amsterdam Bureau. On the same subject, I have also received a fairly extensive report from the Polish comrade V., who attended the conference as a visitor. Aside from that, I have also before me a copy of Emancipation, Doriot's pamper, which contains an article and the first installment of a report on the conference. Insufficient as all this information may be (the texts of the resolutions adopted have not as yet reached me in their entirety), I nevertheless hasten to convey to you a temporary evaluation of the results of this conference.

1. The Norwegian Labor Party (NAP) was not represented, i.e., it has of its own initiative brought about the break at the precise moment it chose to do so. The NAP was the only real mass party in the IAG. The formlessness of the IAG has always been explained and excused particularly by the need of adaptation to the "great" Norwegian party. Now Tranmæl feels he has reached his port, and he says to dear Schwab: the Moor has done his work, the Moor is dismissed. An invaluable lesson for all those who consider unprincipled combinations the highest art in politics.

2. At the same time, Schwab has broken with us in a hostile fashion — precisely because of his inclination toward the great Norwegian party. He has now lost from the right the only real mass party and from the left he has broken off all relations with the ICL, i.e., the one organization that represents a certain amount of ideological capital in the midst of the present chaos throughout the labor movement. And he will not fare any better in the future, for our epoch is merciless towards organizations that are held together by nothing stouter than a string of innocuous formulas.

3. The Swedish party appears to be in a position no different from that of the NAP. The Swedes are only trailing behind Tranmæl in the right course and still need the banner of the IAG, but only for the time being.

4. The fact that the ILP has "conclusively" broken with the Second International while continuing its sterile machinations with the Third, I cannot regard as an advance; it is only another form of the same confusion. If Fenner Brockway had declared for the Fourth International and thereafter returned to the Labour Party, that would have been a real step forward.

5. In 1874, Engels wrote to Sorge about a certain Proudhonist-anarchist conference: "General disagreement on everything that is fundamental, under the cover of no debates, only reports made and listened to." This splendid description fits like a glove on the conference of the IAG. Only such "communities" are even less durable in our times than they were sixty years ago.

6. It is very encouraging to note that Schmidt and you both took such a firm stand for the Fourth International. But that did not shape the character of the conference. Quite the contrary. In the first article on the conference to reach me, Doriot concludes after an outpour of rambling and innocuous phrases, with one lone, concrete, precise remark, namely: "We have not formed a new International. This Trotskyist idea was quite formally condemned by the conference." All the other participants no doubt gave similar reports: general phrases about revival, unity, struggle against war, etc., with a single precise fact: the Fourth International and the Trotskyists were condemned. By this "concrete" result, these gents achieve a certain amount of consolation for the lack of any other achievements. It gives them a sort of moral satisfaction. If you reread the letter I sent you about a month and a half or two months ago, you will find in it a modest prophecy: the gentlemen will wash their hands of the Fourth International, and that will constitute the "positive^ content of the conference.

7. The devastating effect of the SAP confusion can be felt almost tangibly in Doriot's editorial. He manages to speak in the same breath of the complete bankruptcy of the Second and Third Internationals and, at the same time, he "formally condemns" the idea of the Fourth International. That is in the tradition of the Walcher school. The Fourth International is to arise in the "process" and Walcher and his conferences appear to have nothing to do with the "process." Perhaps Walcher is of the opinion that it would be of advantage to the process if Walcher were not to interfere with it in matters of the Fourth International. I am becoming more and more convinced that in that assumption he might not be wrong after all. The whole history of the struggle between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks is dotted with this little word "process." Lenin always formulated tasks and proposed corresponding methods. The Mensheviks agreed with the same "aims" by and large, but left their realization to the historic process. There is nothing new under the sun.

As I have said, I do not yet have before me the resolution of the SAP, but I know the music and also the bandleader. It is the historical mission of SAP documents to prevent the worst confusionists and centrists from getting a bellyache.

8. An attempt was made to maneuver with the lefts in the Second International. But in vain. And even if they succeeded in this field, it would not have lasted very long. Under the pressure of great events and great dangers, the centrist elements that have been set in motion seek either powerful material support or ideological clarity. Some, mostly skeptics and cynics, seek to find a road to Moscow. Others, the road to us. The banner of the SAP cannot under any circumstances attract for an extended period of time any mass organization or serious tendency.

If we had developed the Declaration of Four, concluded a year and a half ago, patiently and systematically, issued common propaganda documents, made connections under the banner of the Fourth International, then we would make a considerably deeper impression upon the Spanish Socialist youth, the Austrian Schutzbund, etc. The betrayal of the SAP has only served the Stalinist bureaucracy. This betrayal has caused us considerable difficulties, but it could not change our path.

9. An antiwar committee has been created, and the Belgian left has been won for this committee. But, as Comrade V. reports, the Belgian left holds a purely pacifist point of view: "against all wars," "no difference between the USSR and the capitalist states in the war," etc. In a word, sentimental-reactionary, philistine nonsense, which, it appears, was not rejected by the conference. How could it have been? They had enough to do to condemn the Fourth International. And then again, if the pacifist philistines had been confronted with a clear stand, this wonderful antiwar committee would never have been formed. Five simple workers who seriously stand by the Leninist principles of antiwar policy are, in the case of war, a hundred times more important than this kind of committee, which is blown away by the first war breezes like some house of cards.

In any case, the SAP people tried to console the conference or rather themselves — opportunist slogans often lead to revolutionary actions. They are really generous with these crumbs of their Brandlerian wisdom. At any rate, Walcher has to be satisfied for the time being with opportunist slogans: the "process" will have to take care of the "revolutionary actions" for him.

10. The moral of this story was given by Zyromsky, quite correctly in my opinion, when he advised the participants as follows: instead of inviting us into your "labor community," you yourselves should return to the Second and Third Internationals and prepare unification from the inside. That is at least a political idea; if you have no desire or courage to fight for a Fourth International, then return to the old Internationals and reform them or merge them.

11. I have just received the SAP resolution on the Fourth International. This tripe looks just as it should look. There is talk of the échec ("defeat") of the two Internationals, and then they leave to Saint Nicholas the historic process, the task of building a new International — God knows on what kind of a foundation. They are forced by the situation itself (and to some extent also by us) to say "something" about this delicate theme, but they take particular pains to say something that does not place any obligations whatsoever upon any tendency whatsoever.

At the same time, I have also received the declaration of Brockway, Kilbom and Kruk, which says that the orientation toward a Fourth International would mean a split in the committee. With this, the physiognomy of the conference has been completely established.

12. What is most important in every political organism is its tendency of development If we consider the period from August 1933 to February 1935, we cannot ascertain, in spite of the great events that have intervened, any progress whatsoever, either quantitatively or qualitatively. From the NAP some expected to influence the leadership, others expected the creation of a left wing in it, at least the adherence of the Mot Dag; nothing of the sort happened. By the link with Tranmæl, criticism was prevented and the latter was actually aided in stifling the opposition. The lesser gains that have been made are outweighed by the departure of the NAP. Ideologically the same confusion prevails, but in the course of time it has become much worse and much more dangerous.

Where can we find the slightest reason to expect that things will improve in the future? Once every year and a half, a few dozen people gather. All of them have long ago completed their political education, and they only need the IAG as a safety valve against their own lefts. The spearhead of the criticism and particularly of their hatred is directed toward the left, against us. There are no binding decisions; there is no organ for discussion. The gatherings and the bulletin only serve, as Engels said, to give reports and to listen to them. Their own members only get some verbiage in the manner of Doriot (not the Fourth International, but the complete unity of the working class). A very deceptive community of interests, without any content, without any perspective, without any future.

Now I come to the practical conclusions. You wrote me, dear friend, that out of consideration for the impending unification with the OSP you cannot publish the critique of the draft resolution of the SAP in the organ of the RSP. The fusion of the two Dutch organizations is so important that I, for my part, am ready to pay a considerable price for it I therefore beg you to regard the following, not as a complaint, but only as an analysis of an important symptom.

The SAP is the leading organization of the IAG not because it has any ideas but, on the contrary, because it is helpful to the heterogeneous groups in their disregard for ideas. And it is very easy for the SAP because these gentlemen don't give a snap about ideas. Just because we are very strict with our ideas, they hate us. On the occasion of the entry into the SFIO, this hatred took on the most disgusting expression: yesterday they embraced de Kadt against the "sectarians"; today they align themselves with the hysterical sectarian Bauer against us.

These people are not ashamed of criticizing us in the sharpest forms before and after the conference. In this situation the RSP of Holland feels constrained to refrain in advance from criticizing a draft resolution, and before its fusion with the OSP at that Really, this small fact illuminates like lightning the whole question of the IAG. We see here also the repetition of a rule that has been observed hundreds of times in the past on a much larger scale; centrists, even left centrists, always respect the opportunists and feel flattered and encouraged when they win their smiles. At the same time, the centrists are terribly outraged when the unbehaved "sectarians" (i.e., Marxists) spoil the pleasure they derive from the smiles of friends at their right by inappropriate criticism. When the centrist makes his big combinations, he always bows low to the right and hisses to the left: shut up! It was this pressure that the RSP must have felt when it refrained, as a sort of advance payment, from publishing a quite reserved, principled and objective criticism. Isn't that symptomatic?

The vote in the Saar was a striking confirmation of our analysis of the Second and Third Internationals. No better laboratory experiment could have been asked for to test our new orientation. In France, too, matters are not any different The French proletariat can be victorious only despite the two official parties. If it should fail, however, it will bury Stalinists as well as Socialists forever. It is these basic historic facts that we must lean on, if we wish to brace ourselves for the long road ahead. In order to draw the most important conclusions from the Saar question alone, we must mercilessly expose before the eyes of the workers the confusion of a Walcher, a Doriot, etc.

For these people, just because they mimic our gestures in order eventually to turn against us, constitute the immediate danger on the road to the Fourth International. To buy the great privilege of an illusory community of ideas with them, through the renunciation or even moderation of our criticism against them, seems to me to be nothing short of a crime. (N. B. And, incidentally, you will have to admit that the entry of our French section into the SFIO had nothing whatsoever to do with such a renunciation of criticism. On the contrary, never have our French friends criticized the opportunists so sharply, so concretely, so effectively as they do now. For combinations with centrist leaderships, behind the backs of the masses, are one thing and work in a mass organization against the centrist leadership is another thing altogether.)

I repeat, the fusion of the two Dutch parties is so important that we are prepared to defray even extra expenses. But under one condition: the ICL must maintain for itself complete freedom of movement and criticism with regard to the Amsterdam Bureau. That we should change our attitude toward the IAG after the Paris conference, I, for one, consider well-nigh impossible. Shall we have to change our minds in the future? The future itself will instruct us as to that.

However, what is to be done at present? A modest but important step in that direction has been taken by the new Workers Party in America. In its constitution we read:

(Article III: International Affiliation, p. 26)

"The Party, at its launching, is affiliated with no other group, party, or organization in the United States or elsewhere. Its National Committee is empowered to enter into fraternal relations with groups and parties in other countries and, if they stand on the same fundamental program as its own, to cooperate with them in the elaboration of a complete world program and the speediest possible establishment of the new revolutionary International. Action on any organizational affiliation must be submitted to a National Convention of the Party."

I wish to direct your attention and that of Comrade Schmidt to this highly important paragraph. Here, it is not a matter of some confused fraternization with Tom, Dick and Harry on the basis of some wishy-washy program for the one lone reason that neither party belongs to the Second or Third Internationals. Not at all, the Americans say; we wish to establish solid relations only with organizations that stand on the same fundamental program as we do, in order to create, together with them, the new revolutionary International. It is, therefore, the first duty of the united Dutch party to turn to the united American party with the proposal to carry on joint, systematic action in the direction of the Fourth International.

The old Declaration of Four, for my part in revised, corrected and improved form, could serve as the point of departure. Together with the International Secretariat of the Bolshevik-Leninists, you could then approach the SAP for the last time: do they or don't they want to participate in our preparatory work, which does not intend to achieve anything by decreed

If I have been informed correctly, Comrade Schmidt quite openly and loyally reserved for himself the right to fight for the Fourth International. If, after this, we create a preparatory program commission, which gives its serious and well-founded considerations on the most important questions of the international movement, then this commission, without assuming any administrative rights, will exert a far greater attractive force than the IAG. In no case is it a matter of an ultimatum: with us or with Amsterdam. The Dutch party can, if it finds need for it, continue to remain in the IAG and, at the same time, undertake together with us the preparatory work we have described above. Experience will then have something to teach one of us.

This is a practical proposal that I am communicating through this letter to all members of the plenum. But the practical decision rests in the hands of the leadership of the united Dutch party.

P. S. In spite of the length of this letter, it appears to me that, with regard to the SAP, it is not as thoroughgoing as it should be, and in a twofold sense at that, both theoretically and factually. Therefore here are two important points in addition:

1. I have requested Comrade Adolphe to prepare for the use of our sections a complete report on the Declaration of Four on the basis of authentic documents, i.e., a report of our attempt to collaborate with the SAP. Even for those who now stand on the sidelines, it will then become absolutely clear that the SAP representatives never had a single occasion to speak — let alone to vote — against the desire attributed to us, to proclaim the Fourth International with one stroke. The differences were restricted to the question whether it was necessary to criticize Tranmæl and Co. or to tolerate them and court them.

Nor did we propose even this question in ultimatistic fashion. We always said: that is our opinion; you go right ahead and have your experience with Tranmæl; we shall, however, reserve for ourselves the right to criticize not only Tranmæl but also your experiences with him. The tone of our criticisms was always prudent and friendly. Insofar as the several decisions on the Fourth International are concerned, these were always adopted unanimously. In order to appease the SAP people, unanimity in decisions was raised to a principle on our insistence.

But Walcher and the others became frightened by their own courage after every decision we made. After one step forward, they made two steps backward. In doing that, they refused to discuss or even to bring forward a written explanation. They simply didn't answer the letters and insisted in a huff in semiprivate conversations that we wanted to improvise the Fourth International. The real reason was and remains the fact that they do not dare to approach such a tremendous task. Their impression, after every contact with us, was the following: "But these people are taking the thing quite seriously; that will never do."

2. The explosion of hatred against us on the occasion of the crisis in the German section surprised a good many people. What was the cause of this disgusting spitefulness? Why the alliance with Bauer? These feelings must have been rooted deep down in their centrist hearts before they broke into print in the columns of Die Neue Front

Walcher and consorts hail from Brandler's school. Together with Brandler-Thalheimer, they slipped on the revolutionary situation in 1923. They could not summon up the courage for action. Just as is the case now with the Fourth International, they then too, at the time of the German Revolution, wanted the historic "process" to liberate them from the duty of arriving at great decisions and of assuming responsibility for them. And that is the very substance of left centrism, whose most important prototype was the Russian Martov. In perspective, he was ready to accept the boldest decisions. But where it was a matter of taking even the most modest step along the line of these principles and becoming involved in their practical realization, he always leaped to the side. He did, to be sure, invent much wittier explanations for his evasions than Walcher and consorts do for theirs.

In the course of the Chinese Revolution, the Brandlerites, Walcher included, supported the criminal policy of Stalin193 against us. In the history of the Anglo-Russian Committee, Walcher and his people do not understand to this day what the crime of the Stalin-Tomsky policy, which helped the [British] General Council over the top in a highly critical situation, consisted of. Moreover, the SAP's attitude in the IAG is only a weaker edition of that same policy. In the Russian question also, Walcher went along with Brandler up to 1930, if I am not mistaken. All this could not have been an accident In 1933 we made a quite honest and straightforward attempt to help these people climb out of the centrist morass. But by their whole manner of acting, they showed that they cannot live and breathe outside of this morass.

I do not mean to imply by this that the whole membership or even leadership is lost forever. The above-mentioned "process" makes its blows felt even on the hardest heads at times. But we do not wish to pursue toward the SAP leaders the same passive policy that they pursue toward their friends from the right We must act in the direction of the Fourth International and by accomplished facts present the SAP with the choice — with us or against us. That is the only correct policy.

Crux [Leon Trotsky]