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Leon Trotsky 19350907 The Stalinist Turn

Leon Trotsky: The Stalinist Turn

September 7, 1935

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 8, 1935-36, New York ²1977, p. 125-129]

I owe an apology to the readers of our international press for not having commented upon the Seventh Congress prior to now, despite several reminders. The causes for this lie beyond my control. On the one hand, the debates at the congress were extremely amorphous and intentionally diffuse, and on the other hand, they were purely theatrical in character. The questions were discussed and settled behind the scenes, often over the telephone connecting the Kremlin with the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. There was some semblance of a conflict of opinions within the narrow bureaucratic circle. However, once the decision was finally reached by the Political Bureau, orators were appointed who were instructed to present the decision in such a manner as would least compromise the upper crust of the Communist International, and, in any case, cast not the slightest shadow upon the infallibility of the “Leader.” What passed for “discussion” at the congress amounts, in fact, to a long and, one must add, a frightfully boring comedy, with roles cast beforehand. Moreover, the actors are rotten.

For this reason, the reports of the discussions must be scrutinized in the same manner as one goes over diplomatic documents, asking at every step the questions: What does the orator really have in mind? What is he slurring over? And why? Diplomatic documents are usually worded succinctly; the speeches of the reporters at the congress, however, are inordinately long. The wearisome scope of the reports provides an added measure of bureaucratic self-insurance: it is necessary to let loose the greatest possible number of the least precise assertions possible, without getting embarrassed over their contradictory nature. One never can tell precisely which of these assertions will come in handy in the future. Then, add to this the frightfully bad newspaper accounts. Where clear thinking and a political will obtain, when an open ideological struggle takes place, which is always an aid to precision of thought, the form of presentation can be clear, good, and convincing; but when a functionary-orator is busy covering up his own tracks, and those of his superiors, and when the functionary-journalist retails the muddled speech in constant panic lest he run afoul of a submarine reef, then the newspaper reports inevitably amount to a miserable hash of generalities poorly strung together. Such are the reports in L'Humanité which I have had to use up to now. When, for instance, I sought on the basis of these reports to determine even approximately what the working class movement in Japan amounts to, under the conditions of the present-day Far East crisis, and the role played in it by the Communist Party of Japan, I was able to establish conclusively only one fact, namely, that in Japanese the impassioned love for the Leader is expressed by the word, “Banzai!” But I was already equipped with this piece of information, since it is proper to yell “Banzai!” in honor of the Mikado as well. Incidentally, at the congress, Stalin scintillated in silence, also after the Mikado’s fashion.

The so-called “discussions” revolved around two questions: the policy of the “united front” (today, that is the only policy in existence) against fascism, and the same policy against war. The speeches of the reporters, the fulsome and flat report of Dimitrov as well as jesuitical sophistry of Ercoli, added nothing to those asseverations which during recent months flooded the press of the Communist International, particularly in France. The experience of the French Communist Party occupied the center of the stage, and it was boosted as an exemplar worthy of emulation. But it was precisely upon the basic questions before the congress that the organizations of the Fourth International had already expressed themselves quite adequately. In the light of the debates at Moscow, we, the revolutionary Marxists, do not have to change a single line in all we have hitherto said on the questions of war, fascism, the “united front,” and the “People’s Front.”

This does not at all mean to say that we can disregard the Seventh Congress. Far from it! Whether the debates be brimful of meaning or hollow, the congress itself represents a stage in the evolution of a certain section of the working class. It is important if only for the fact that by legalizing the opportunistic turn in France, it immediately transplants it to the rest of the world. We have a curious specimen of bureaucratic thinking in that while granting, on paper at any rate, a liberal autonomy to all sections, and while even issuing instructions to them to do independent thinking and adapt themselves to their own national conditions, the congress, immediately thereupon, proclaimed that all countries in the world, fascist Germany as well as democratic Norway, Great Britain as well as India, Greece as well as China, are equally in need of the “People’s Front,” and, wherever possible, a government of the People’s Front. The congress is important because it marks — after a period of vacillation and fumbling — the final entry of the Communist International into its “fourth period,” which has for its slogan, “Power to Daladier!” — for its banner, a tricolor — for its hymn, the “Marseillaise,” drowning out the “Internationale.”

In any case, the resolutions would have provided a great deal more than the verbose discussions toward the appraisal of the depth of the turn and its concrete content pertaining to conditions in different countries. The drafts of the resolutions, however, were not published beforehand upon a single one of the questions that were discussed. The discussions did not take place around definitive documents, but seeped over an illimitable expanse. The special committee busied itself with drafting the resolutions only after all the orators had bellowed praise to the Leader and begun packing their bags. It is an unprecedented fact: the official congress adjourned without arriving at any decisions. This job has been left to the new leaders, appointed prior to the congress (Dimitrov!), who are to take into consideration, insofar as possible, the moods and wishes of the honorable delegates. Thus, the very mechanics of this congress made it extremely difficult to give any sort of a timely critical evaluation of its labors. Today, at any rate, the principal material of the congress has been published, and thus, at last, it is possible to draw up theoretical and political balance sheets. I will try to fulfill this task as soon as possible in a special pamphlet or series of articles. At this time, I should like to sketch in advance a few political conclusions in connection with the turn of the Communist International, which was sealed at the congress.

It would be a fatal mistake on our part to think that the theory and practice of the “third period” has been entirely and painlessly liquidated by the “self-criticism” of the leaders, and that the opportunistic and patriotic turn is guaranteed a cloudless future. While the bureaucracy has consigned to the flames all it so highly revered with such scandalous ease, it is otherwise with the masses. Their attitude toward slogans is more serious and genuine. The moods of the “third period” are still entirely alive in the consciousness of those workers who follow the Communist International. And precisely these moods were in evidence among the French Communists in Toulon and Brest. The leaders were able to curb the opposition of the rank and file for a time only by giving “secret”’ assurances on their oath that here was involved a cunning maneuver aimed to hoodwink the Radicals and the Socialists, take the masses away from them, and then … “then we will show ourselves for what we are.” On the other hand, the pro-coalition and patriotic turn of the Communist Party is attracting to it the sympathy of new strata considerably removed from the working class, those who are very patriotic and very much dissatisfied with the financial decrees and who see in the Communist Party only the most energetic wing of the People’s Front. This means that inside the Communist Party and on its periphery are accumulating to an increasing degree contradictory tendencies, which must lead to an explosion or series of explosions. From this flows the duty for the organizations of the Fourth International to follow most attentively the internal life of the Communist parties in order to support the revolutionary proletarian tendency against the leading social-patriotic faction, which will henceforth become more and more enmeshed in the attempts of class collaboration.

Our second conclusion touches upon centrist groupings and their relation to the strategic turn of the Communist International. The right-centrist elements will inevitably be attracted by this turn as though by a magnet. One need only read the theses on war by Otto Bauer, Zyromsky, and the Russian Menshevik Dan, to see clearly that it is precisely these consummate representatives of the golden mean who have expressed the very essence of the Comintern’s new policy better than Dimitrov and Ercoli. But not they alone. The field of magnetic attraction also extends further to the left. Die Neue Front, the organ of the SAP, in its last two issues (16 and 17), while screening itself behind a pile of cautious qualifications and warnings, in essence hails the opportunistic turn of the Communist International, as its emancipation from sectarian ossification, and its transition to the road of “more realistic” policy. How ill-judged are all the discussions to the effect that the SAP is supposedly in agreement with us on all the principled questions, but merely disapproves of our “methods.” In reality, every major question reveals the incongruity between their principled position and ours. The impending war danger impelled the SAP to advance immediately, against our slogans, the demoralizing slogan of “disarmament,” which is rejected even by Otto Bauer, Zyromsky, and Dan as “unrealistic.” The same clash of positions became manifest in the evaluation of the evolution of the Communist International. In the very heat of the “third period” we forecasted with absolute precision that this paroxysm of ultraleftism would inevitably lead to a new opportunistic zigzag, immeasurably more profound and fatal than all those preceding. In the days when the Communist International still played motley variations on the theme of “revolutionary defeatism,” we warned that from the theory of “socialism in a single country” would inevitably flow social patriotic conclusions with all their treacherous consequences. The Seventh Congress of the Comintern provided a truly remarkable confirmation of the Marxian prognosis. And what happened? The leaders of the SAP, who have forgotten everything and learned nothing, hail the new and severest stage of an incurable disease, discovering in it symptoms … of a realistic convalescence. Isn’t it clear that we have two irreconcilable positions before us?

From the above-indicated point of view, it will be in the highest degree interesting to see what will be the precise reaction to the Seventh Congress of that left centrist party which has hitherto been closest to the Communist International, namely, the ILP of England. Will it be attracted by the vile “realism” of the Seventh Congress (“united front,” “masses,” “middle classes,” etc., etc.) or will it, on the contrary, be repelled by the belated and all the more fatal opportunism (class collaboration under the hollow banner of “anti-fascism,” social patriotism under the cover of “defense of the USSR,” etc.)? The fate of the ILP hinges upon this choice.

One may say, in general, that regardless of the isolated partial stages and episodes, the turn of the Communist International sealed by the congress simplifies the situation in the working class movement. It consolidates the social-patriotic camp, bringing closer the parties of the Second and Third Internationals, regardless of how matters proceed with organizational unity. It strengthens the centrifugal tendencies within the centrist groupings. To the revolutionary internationalists, i.e., the builders of the Fourth International, it opens up all the greater possibilities.