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Leon Trotsky 19350902 Letter to the Emigre Committee of the IKD

Leon Trotsky: Letter to the Emigré Committee of the IKD

September 2, 1935

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 8, 1935-36, New York ²1977, p. 112-114]

Dear Comrades:

1. I read the German circular letters which I received from — with the greatest interest. First of all they give an informative picture of the internal situation. Second, they prove that we have cadres in Germany whose Marxist capabilities we can really be proud of. What the report from J — says about the situation in the factories is very important, and it further encourages me in the analysis I put forward in the comments on the theses of the Emigré Committee.

The second report (on the German situation) is highly revealing, also, with respect to the church question, over which there has been far too much debate. Possibly some German comrades still have too purely propagandistic an orientation. This is connected with the attitude taken by Unser Wort. The paper has to be strengthened. It has a base in Germany and with the intervention of our cadres we can expand it successfully. However, the prerequisite is that Unser Wort appear regularly, at least twice a month, and at least once a month with six pages. This would provide the opportunity to give two pages to more current, agitational themes, without disregarding theoretical questions and international information. Every issue should have, I repeat, some columns filled with little notes (five to ten lines) about the internal affairs of the workers’ organizations. The German comrades are highly interested in these questions, as the reports show.

2. I hear that some comrades think or perhaps thought that the turn on the SAP question, externally connected with the article about alchemy, came about in a way that was not completely democratic. This question seems to me of such importance for an understanding of democratic centralism that I would like to say a few words about it here. The last convention of the IKD unquestionably adopted the line of approaching the SAP. At that time the representatives of the Emigré Committee considered this perspective hopeless. But they rightly thought it necessary to give the German section the opportunity to go through its own experience in this field, for it was really much easier to come to an appropriate conclusion abroad (where the leadership was close at hand) than in Germany. But the sense of the resolution passed by the convention was not that it should be valid forever. It was a question of making a practical attempt and proceeding further on the basis of the results obtained. The attitude of the SAP leadership abroad, as well as the reports from Germany itself, showed without any doubt that there was nothing more to be gained by negotiating with the SAP and that these negotiations only serve to paralyze our own organization. This was what the Emigré Committee thought. It was in agreement with the conclusions I drew from our international experience. In the discussion with Comrade Braun the agreement on this question proved to be unanimous.

What should the leadership do in this situation? Several comrades thought that the leadership should initiate a new discussion and on that basis hold a new convention or a referendum. This would be real “democracy.” Perhaps. But of revolutionary centralism, initiative, readiness to act, and sense of responsibility, there would not be the slightest trace. If you proceed in such a way that in every question the responsibility is left up to the membership, there is no point in having a leadership. An adding machine would do. Especially given the German conditions, the idea of pure party democracy (minus Bolshevik centralism) is clearly utopian. The leadership must also have the courage to declare that an action decided on by the next highest body, the convention, is outlived, and draw the necessary conclusions from this. Of course, in doing so the leadership must be sure that it is expressing the genuine experience of the majority of the organization. And the Emigré Committee and the author of the article were firmly convinced of this.

Was this assessment confirmed? Completely. First by the fact that after brief consideration the comrades in Germany concurred with this necessary turn. Second, by the SAP’s latest heroics in the international arena. I repeat, a leadership which in a critical moment cannot summon up the courage to carry out a turn within twenty-four hours, on its own initiative, without losing time, and while still reflecting the experience of the whole organization, is not worth calling a leadership. Of course, in doing so they run the risk of committing a blunder, of being chastised by the organization, or even of being removed. Every profession has its hazards, and this in particular is the hazard of the leadership profession.

With Communist greetings,

L. Trotsky