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Leon Trotsky 19350718 Letter to the Polish Bolshevik-Leninists

Leon Trotsky: Letter to the Polish Bolshevik-Leninists

July 18, 1935

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 8, 1935-36, New York ²1977, p. 44-47, title: “Perspectives in Poland]

To the Polish Bolshevik-Leninists

Dear Comrades:

I have received from the IS the material dealing with Poland and also a letter addressed to me, containing a list of precisely formulated questions. The discussions among the Polish comrades are going on in two areas, connected but distinct: on the one hand, the general principles and criteria of the workers’ movement and its tendencies; and on the other, an assessment of the opportunities for work for our Polish comrades.

As to the general question, I think the answer has been given to a very large extent by the events of the recent period. Have we abandoned the Leninist assessment of reformism and centrism? Or should we revise it? Should we abandon the idea of the Fourth International?

Whoever holds this opinion is absolutely not one of us. Our policy is sufficiently characterized by the following facts: (a) the fusions in America and Holland; (b) the entry of our section into the French and Belgian Social Democratic parties; (c) a hard campaign against the SAP and its like; (d) the publication of the manifesto on the Fourth International. It is only when one has all these facts before one’s eyes that one can understand their mutual interdependence and have an exact picture of the strategic line of the Bolshevik-Leninists. We can permit ourselves to enter the opportunist parties because we have educated cadres; because we are implacable toward professional confusionists of the SAP kind; because we are doing all our work either as an independent organization or, temporarily, as a faction inside the opportunist parties, under the banner of the Fourth International, that is to say, without any conciliation with the ideas and methods of the Second and Third Internationals. Whoever destroys this form of organization, which we did not invent but which was imposed on us by the total situation; whoever isolates tactics from strategy and makes a universal formula out of an episodic rule — that person courts the danger of perishing in the swamp of opportunism or in the desert of sectarianism.

It is wrong to claim that we should not enter a Social Democratic party unless we are accepted as a statutory faction and allowed our own press, etc. No doubt it would be excellent if we had all that. But outside of France, where the SP has a quite particular structure and tradition, we never find such conditions. Nor are they decisive. As the Belgian example shows, entry is conditioned by political, not constitutional motives. It is not a matter of entering a given party with fanfare, but of having real opportunities to develop revolutionary work inside the party. Inside the Stalinist parties our friends must work in a completely illegal way. The same is admissible equally for reformist parties. For us it is a question not of decorous politics but of revolutionary politics.

In Belgium we all had some fears in view of the fact that our section was obliged to give up its press and, without rights “guaranteed” in the slightest, enter the SP, a party, moreover, which was sharing governmental power. But facts proved our Belgian comrades right. They now play a very important role in the left wing of the party, which is sharply expressed by the fact that they have ousted Dr. Marteau, a Stalinist agent, from the leadership of the oppositionist newspaper, L’Action socialiste. This fact cannot be overestimated. A revolutionary leadership, therefore, can develop only inside this party and the unions connected with it. The question was whether this would take place in a Stalinist or in a Leninist direction. We can now say with complete certainty that the Stalinist perspectives have diminished considerably while ours have increased by as much. It is very important to notice that the Stalinist Marteau has support only in Brussels, where he is faced by Vereecken and his group. By that it is incontestably proved that the Vereecken group has not the slightest influence on the left wing of the POB.

Many counter-blows may yet be produced, in France as in Belgium. But an important step forward has been made. Discussion on the correctness of the organizational turn, in the last instance, has been cut short by the verdict of practice.

Some comrades appear dismayed, even discouraged, by the fact that the recently fused parties in America and Holland have not achieved greater success, the Dutch party even having suffered losses in the last elections. Marxist analysis in this case too is the only guarantee against exaggerated hopes and against unjustifiable disappointments. The two parties are not new formations but have their origin in old organizations. They are barely known to the working class as autonomous parties. After great historic disillusionments, the proletarian vanguard does not readily place its confidence in unknown formations. Only an extremely clear program of action, only concentrated agitation, only active participation in the fights and inner life of the mass organizations can anchor new parties in the consciousness of the proletarian vanguard. That has not yet been achieved in Holland and America. It can be said with certainty that our progress in France and Belgium is relatively more important than in Holland and America. To draw some general conclusions from that would be wrong, or at least premature. Every undertaking needs time to ripen. We should examine very closely the developments in the various countries, establish their similarities, examine the conditions for them, and only then draw the necessary conclusions. In any case, we should not lose too much time getting on with it.

As for the concrete Polish questions, it is extremely difficult for me — despite the important documents our Polish friends sent us — to make up my mind. The dominant tone of these documents could be called pessimistic: the working class is said to be in no state to fight; fascism supposedly could develop without resistance, etc. Is that really the case? The grossest mistake one can make in such cases is to underestimate the possibilities for fighting.

What does the PPS [Polish Socialist Party] represent? How many workers does it count in its ranks? What is its political influence in general, and inside the unions in particular? How is the inner life of the party developing? What the documents and letters have to say about this is too general. It can be supposed that our group — and this is explained by its whole past — keeps itself rather much apart from the PPS, has only superficial and casual relations with it, and consequently does not keep an eye on its inner life. Under these conditions the matter is revealed as an equation with too many unknowns.

From a hypothetical point of view, it can be supposed that even in the case where the triumph of the present regime is total and meets no resistance, and where the PPS similarly disappears without resistance, a revolutionary faction of the PPS must split off under the pressure of events; in other words, the revolutionary elements of the old party will survive only in illegality. It would be very important, in this case too, to draw close to the proletarian wing of the party in good time.

If the regime is going to become totalitarian, attempts at a united front will be more energetic, and it is altogether possible that they might lead to practical results through an eventual split in the PPS. So the left wing of this party can thus also open the way for our comrades to those Stalinists capable of developing. Moreover, it seems altogether clear that, under these conditions, taking refuge in the Bund would mean turning one’s back on all opportunities for further development. On the other hand, one cannot help the Jewish workers to get out of the dead end of the Bund toward a larger arena except by revolutionary work crowned with success among the Polish proletariat.*

It seems, then, that our friends should, for a specific period, give up general discussions among themselves and, without expulsions and without pushing anyone aside, devote all their energies to creating for themselves connections with the left wing, particularly the proletarian elements in the PPS and the unions, and to collecting all the relevant material in such a way as to make definite decisions on the basis of the facts of this large inquiry; this, at the same time, can serve as propaganda for our ideas.


*This, naturally, does not exclude the possibility of the eventual entry of one or another group of our comrades into the Bund. But the analysis is concerned with our general orientation.