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Leon Trotsky 19350811 Letter to the National Committee Workers Party of the U.S.

Leon Trotsky: Letter to the National Committee Workers Party of the U.S.

August 11, 1935

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 8, 1935-36, New York ²1977, p. 65-69, title: “Oehlerism and the French Experience]

To the National Committee Workers Party of the U.S.

Dear Comrades:

I have received from Comrade Swabeck the motions and minutes of your June plenum. I need not say that I have studied these important documents with all the attention which they merit. You have opened up a discussion on disputed questions. The remarks I present here are my contribution to your discussion.

I wish to commence with an analysis of the motions of the Oehler group because the documents of this group may be regarded as the touchstone. The Oehler group proposes “the condemnation of the orientation of the ICL.” The new orientation is best represented by the participation of our French section in the opportunist SFIO, which is a section of the Second International.

Most of the European sections were at the beginning opponents of the turn made in France. The French section was itself split on this question. The initial objections offered were the following: (a) It is an abdication of the slogan for the Fourth International, (b) It is a formal capitulation before the reformists, (c) Our French section will be unable to defend its ideas inside the SFIO. (d) Our comrades will be demoralized, little by little, by their reformist milieu.

We, the partisans of the entry into the SFIO, replied: All these dangers exist but at the same time we have the opportunity to combat them. We surely hope that our cadres are sufficiently tempered, that our international control is sufficiently efficacious, to assure that our French section remains faithful to its principles and gains in influence within the SFIO. Such was the point of departure of the discussion and of the experiment itself. Almost a year has now gone by — and what a year!

The elementary duty of every Marxist is to draw the balance sheet of the experiment. Has our French section lost any of its clarity or its revolutionary vigor? Has it actually begun to use reformist methods? Has it forsaken the struggle for the Fourth International? Has it weakened its slogans? Has it drawn near to the masses or, on the contrary, has it been isolated from them? It seems incredible, yet it is nevertheless a fact: the Oehler group does not even pose these questions. In its motions there is not the slightest attempt to analyze and criticize the activity of our French section. It condemns the turn itself (not the activity and its results, but the turn) without regard for the realities of the class struggle.

Now, every comrade who is acquainted with the facts and documents must recognize that: (a) La Vérité [paper of the GBL] is the most revolutionary, the most Marxist paper of our entire international press — not because its editorial board is superior, hut because this little newspaper reflects the struggles of the masses in an extremely tense situation, (b) The slogans of the French Bolshevik-Leninists are all confirmed by events and have found a great echo in the country, (c) The adult group, which has hardly reached out to the provinces, secured more than 2,000 votes on a Marxist motion at the Mulhouse congress. (d) The youth group dominates two of the most important sections, Seine and Seine-et-Oise, i.e., Paris and its environs, carrying with it groups which only yesterday were hostile, like Fred Zeller, etc. Under the influence of our youth it is possible to count six or seven thousand in the Socialist Party, (e) Through the medium of the Socialist organizations, our comrades have secured far more solid contact with Stalinist, trade union, and other circles. The conquests which have been made outside the Socialist Party will be revealed in the near future in a manner which will leave no room whatever for doubt, (f) The international connections of our French section are more solidly welded than ever and its struggle in behalf of the Fourth International is being waged unremittingly.

Does Comrade Oehler not know these facts? Is he deliberately closing his eyes, so that his formulas may remain intact? What does such an attitude signify? In any case, it has nothing in common with Marxism, which is not a game with formulas but an analysis of realities. It would appear that Oehler does not want revolutionary successes because they have arrived by the road which he opposed. Let the revolution perish, so long as Oehler’s prejudices triumph! What ideas does Oehler oppose to the French experience? Must one never, under any conditions, work in the reformist parties?

On the other hand, in the motion on the SP he recognizes the necessity for “faction work in the Second and in the Third Internationals.” Is it “normal” that a revolutionary party should have its factions in the reformist parties? The faction is subordinated to the statutes of the reformist party. Is this not capitulation? If the work of the faction goes well, it can perhaps become two or three times larger than an independent organization. Wouldn’t this be capitulation by two-thirds or three-quarters of one organization? Oehler can reply: But an independent organization directs the faction and thereby assures a correct policy. But our French section has been and is under the control of our international organization. It seems that Oehler forgets this circumstance. Or is it that that control has not been satisfactory? Why hasn’t Oehler then indicated the faults committed by our French section? Why does he deprive it of his criticism and advice? Because he wants to know nothing, either of the successes or of the errors of our French section. He is like a man who does not want to allow his daughter to marry a wholly excellent man who has the misfortune of having been born out of wedlock. However, the entry into the SFIO is based on absolutely the same plan as the formation of factions in the Second and Third Internationals. These facts show that we do not yet have revolutionary parties, fully formed and strong in the confidence of the masses. It is a question of building such parties, and to succeed it is necessary to apply the method which corresponds to the given social and political conditions and not to supra-historical formulas.

In any case, whoever speaks of the capitulation of the French section before the reformists is making use of slanders for purposes of factional struggle.

The Oehler group proposed to reject the draft of the Open Letter presented by the International Secretariat. To this text he opposed six lines which are the vague titles of unwritten chapters. We would all have been glad to have a better draft, but this manner of rejecting as a whole a text drawn up by our international center and offering in its stead a few phrases without content is absolutely unworthy of a Marxist. Light-mindedness and superficiality are not revolutionary virtues.

The Oehler group proposes to place under the Open Letter a number of different signatures, that of the SAP included, but excluding that of our French section. What the SAP is, the American comrades now know sufficiently well from the article beginning on page 129 of the July issue of the New International [“Centrist Alchemy or Marxism?”]. You will receive almost simultaneously with this letter a translation of the article of Comrade Schmidt, chairman of the Dutch party (RSAP), which shows that the SAP is now carrying on a fierce struggle in our Dutch party against the Fourth International. The leaders of our Young Socialist comrades in France have been expelled from the SFIO because they were carrying on a struggle for the Fourth International. But Comrade Oehler insists upon the signature of the SAP and rejects the signature of the French section.

But he goes still further, in taking up the defense of the International Bureau of Stockholm. In his motion he affirms that “The Stockholm-Oslo Youth Bureau, with which the Spartacus Youth League of the U.S. is affiliated, is the only youth organization standing for the Fourth International, and must be preserved and developed further theoretically and organizationally.” Now in fact, the whole crisis of the Stockholm Bureau is due to the fact that the majority of the Bureau is openly hostile to the Fourth International.

We know the attitude of the SAP. The Swedish group is even further to the right. It has handed over its mandate to the Norwegian group Mot-Dag, which consists of about a hundred reformist intellectuals who have fully approved bourgeois ministerialism and the declaration of Stalin. The proposal to delegate to the Stockholm Bureau a representative of the Dutch youth and a representative of the French youth is rejected by Oehler as “arbitrary.” He evidently believes that Mot-Dag is far better fitted for a place in the Bureau. Oehler is afraid of a split with avowed opportunists and declared enemies of the Fourth International. But he has no fear of a split with the Bolshevik-Leninists. He calls for the signature of Vereecken, who broke from our international organization, but rejects the signature of the French section, which has remained faithful to it, just as, naturally, he rejects the signature of our Belgian section, which is now making considerable progress.

How is one to explain the fact that a representative of the intransigent “left wing” like Oehler is suddenly transformed into a defender of the SAP and the opportunist majority of the Stockholm Bureau against the sections of the Bolshevik-Leninists? On what side of the barricades is Oehler, anyway? It will be necessary to clarify this point because we have already witnessed the case of Bauer, who assumed the defense of the Fourth International against our “capitulation” before the Second International and ended up as a member and agent of the SAP in its miserable struggle against the Fourth International.

In the same motion Oehler demands that the Socialist youth of Spain be represented in the Bureau. But those youth also belong to a party of the Second International. They are infinitely less advanced than our French youth. They have declared themselves for the Fourth International without drawing from their declaration the necessary consequences. We are all naturally ready to do everything possible to draw them to the Fourth International, but the simple phrase in Oehler’s motion is not enough for this. It requires work. The crisis in the Stockholm Bureau is at hand. By rejecting the candidacy of a French delegate, which is a real and dependable candidacy, in favor of a Spanish candidacy which is purely imaginary and speculative, Oehler displays not only his animosity for the French section, which is on the line of battle, but also his incredible lightmindedness on questions upon which our whole struggle for the Fourth International depends.

I reserve the right to add to this letter one or two others in the nearest possible future.


Leon Trotsky