Leon Trotsky‎ > ‎1938‎ > ‎

Leon Trotsky 19380320 Discussions with Trotsky I – The International Conference

Leon Trotsky: Discussions with Trotsky I – The International Conference

March 20, 1938

    [Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York 1970, p. 283-293]

Trotsky: All the sections have had discussions about the events in Spain, the Sino-Japanese war, the class character of the USSR – and some sections have even had their splits, like the German section. Your theses are known by all the sections and the same holds true of the French theses. The question now is only a matter of putting the text in order.

Cannon: There remains the question of preparing the text for the conference.

Trotsky: We have here prepared the draft of the program – it's possible to get it ready within two or three weeks, then to translate it into English and French. Can your declaration of principles be used for the International Conference?

Shachtman: No, it's more the declaration of a national section.

Trotsky: Adolphe has sent out his draft of the statutes. The German section has prepared the thesis on the character of the Fourth International. It was sent to every section three months ago and it is now published in Unser Wort.

Shachtman: We haven't received Unser Wort for some months.

Trotsky: Perhaps because in your sojourn in the Socialist Party you lost your international connections, and you haven't yet been able fully to reestablish them.

You've also had the thesis of Diego Rivera. The only objection to be made against it is that it is too long for the conference. I read your suggestion that I write on the war question in the light of the latest events. I accept this suggestion with readiness – to supplement and concretize our thesis in the light of recent events. We have something of importance to do. It can be done in the next few days. We have here a draft but not enough persons who can translate from the Russian.

But what is missing is a program of transitional demands and slogans. It is necessary to make a summary of concrete, precise demands, such as workers' control of industry as opposed to technocracy. From time to time it is mentioned in the paper but only in passing. But I believe it is one of the slogans that is very important for the U.S.

Lundberg writes a book about the sixty families. The Annalist says that his statistics are exaggerated. We must ask for the abolition of commercial secrets – that the workers have the right to look into the bookkeeping – as a premise for workers' control of industry. A series of transitional measures which correspond to the stage of monopolistic capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat with a section corresponding to colonial and semi-colonial countries. We have prepared such a document. It corresponds to that part of the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels which they themselves declared outdated. It's only partially outdated, partially it is very good, and is to be replaced by our conference.

Then I also have a draft of a thesis concerning democracy. The gist of it is that democracy is the most aristocratic form of rule-only those countries are able to conserve democracy that have slaves in the world, like Great Britain, whose every citizen has nine slaves; France whose every citizen has one and a half slaves; and the U.S. – I can't reckon the slaves, but it's almost the whole world, beginning with Latin America. The poorer countries, like Italy, gave up their democracy.

It's an analysis of democracy in the light of new events. What is a fascization of democracy? The petty-bourgeois democrats become bankrupt. Only the big ones, the greatest robbers, the richest slaveholders, etc., remain democrats. Such a posing of the question is especially useful for the U.S. Naturally it is not to be written in favor of fascism but in favor of proletarian democracy. Even for the richest country, like the U.S., democracy is becoming less and less workable.

I believe these are almost all we have as propositions for the International Conference. The other important questions, the burning questions of the class character of the Soviet Union, the Sino-Japanese war, the question of Spain, have already been discussed by all the sections. We are well prepared for the conference.

I will prepare, then: (1) transitional demands; (2) the question of democracy; (3) war; (4) manifesto on the world situation; either separately or in the form of one basic pamphlet.

Cannon: What about a programmatic manifesto? I wonder whether we should not have such a document?

Trotsky: Yes, it would be very good to have one. It can be done from Europe or it can be done from here. It could be adopted by the International Conference itself, or it could be issued by the International Secretariat in the name of the conference.

Cannon: On the organizational side of the question – shall we consider this conference as a provisional gathering or as the actual founding of the Fourth International? The prevailing opinion among us is that we would actually form the Fourth International at this conference. We think that the main elements of the Fourth International are by now crystallized. We should put an end to our negotiations and maneuvers with the centrists and henceforth deal with them as separate and alien groupings.

Trotsky: I agree absolutely with what Comrade Cannon said. I believe you will meet some opposition from Belgium, particularly from Vereecken. For him life consists of discussions; as soon as a decision is arrived at, it is a catastrophe for him. You will also find some element of opposition from the French comrades at the conference. I don't know about the opinion held by the various British comrades, but I agree entirely that it is absolutely naive to postpone. Naturally we are a weak International but we are an International. This International will become strong by our own action, not by maneuvers with other groups. Naturally, we can attract other intermediary groups, but that would be incidental. The general line is our own development. We had a test in Spain for all these intermediary organizations – the POUM was the most important part of the London Bureau and the same POUM proved to be the most disastrous for the Spanish revolution. I believe that our American section should proclaim its position with energy – we have no reason to boast that we are strong, but we are what we are.

Cannon: I think on this point we have to have some explanation for some of the comrades – perhaps in the form of articles or discussions. Some comrades have taken the tactic of maneuvering and making concessions to centrists as a permanent policy, whereas we think that all our maneuvers with the centrists have been exhausted by now. We were justified two, three, or four years ago in delaying organizational actions, in order to complete the maneuvers and experiments with those people, but not now. We noticed in our discussions that there are some comrades who want to carry over the tactic indefinitely-some kinds of maneuvers which are doomed in advance to defeat. And for this reason I believe we have to explain this matter to the comrades.

Trotsky: The London Bureau is for us not an arena of action or maneuvers – it's only an obstacle – a petrified centrism without masses. What is of interest to us in the political field is the CP, but there it is not a question of maneuvers but of a resolute struggle.

Shachtman: Have you heard any further news about any developments in the POUM in regard to the emergence of a left wing?

Trotsky: The leaders are now the Rights – the worst elements of the Maurin group – and have accused those of the Nin wing of being responsible for the catastrophe in Spain by its too revolutionary policy.

Shachtman: And in Holland?

Trotsky: That is the black spot on our political map. It is a classic example of transformation of a sectarian policy into an opportunistic policy, accompanied by a series of defeats. You know that these left trade unions have existed for the past thirty or forty years. They are not an improvisation of third period Stalinism; they are the result of syndicalist prejudices. Sneevliet became secretary of this organization. It had 25,000 workers and state functionaries – half and half – at its height. But the functions of the state are realized through the trade unions. They are subsidized by the state. In this way the bureaucracy of the trade unions became dependent upon the state. Sneevliet and his friends had an apparatus which didn't and doesn't respond to the strength of the trade unions and the party but which has as its base the financial support of the state.

Cannon: A direct subsidy?

Trotsky: Yes. It gives the trade unions the opportunity to sustain their apparatus. If the state minister withdraws this financial support from these trade unions (and he threatened it) then it's immediately a complete catastrophe. Colijn merely showed a threatening finger to the left-wing trade unions. Immediately all the functionaries left it for other trade unions, and now Sneevliet no longer has 25,000 but a maximum of eleven to twelve thousand. It is his former radical position, especially on the colonial question, that gave him authority among the workers; he was arrested, and when he came out of prison he became a parliamentary deputy. At that time, in France, we talked with him and argued that it was impossible for him to remain a secretary of a trade union, a semi-functionary of the state, and a member of a revolutionary party. He told me that he agreed, but he wished to remain as secretary only in order to gain some 2,000 members from the trade unions to the revolutionary party. I said: fine, we shall see. But the evolution was a contrary one. When he entered the parliament we waited for a genuine revolutionary speech – it was the first time the Fourth International had acquired a parliamentary deputy. But every speech was equivocal. With his prime minister, Colijn, he was very gentlemanly – absolutely non-revolutionary He will tell you a thousand reasons for his attitude but he will hide the one real reason – his obsequiousness to the government in order to retain financial support for his trade union. Very humiliating, but true. In this situation he cannot tolerate any criticism. When a member asks him: Why, in your parliamentary speech, didn't you say this and that? – he can't answer. He expels every critic. In order to fight against us – the Fourth International – he turns for revolutionary camouflage to Spain, and he declares of the POUM, "That's my party." He went to Spain with 500 gulden to give to the POUM – everything was photographed in the paper – he went there and supported the POUM against us.

The POUM had 40,000 members. That's nothing. If you have only 10,000 members – but members who are connected with the masses in rebellion – then you can win a revolution. But 40,000 members separated from the masses – that's nothing. But Sneevliet, Vereecken, Serge turned out to be strikebreakers, in the true sense of the word "strikebreakers." They were in full solidarity with the POUM against us in this situation and the POUM declared: If such important figures are against the official position of the Fourth International, then it is possible that we are right. That strengthened the opportunistic tendencies of the POUM in the most critical situation. Our American friends have a duty to accuse them energetically, because Spain was a great historic lesson. The result of the policy of Sneevliet is that from 25,000 members in the trade unions he has now 11,000 and in the new election he lost his mandate – he no longer had 50,000 votes but less than 30,000; his diplomatic speeches had no interest for the workers.

Now he runs to the London Bureau. We can make no concessions to Sneevliet. We have been patient – it has not been a question of two or three weeks; it's a question of at least six years – and we were all very patient, too patient. Now we must draw a balance sheet, because in the most critical period of the Spanish revolution he proved to be a strikebreaker – we cannot pardon him. Remember how he acted during the last international conference. He came, but as a tourist. He participated in one session; then he telegraphed to Schmidt who approved and later left the workers' movement completely and within a few months went over to the bourgeoisie.

Cannon: Do we have a group in Holland?

Trotsky: Yes, we have a group expelled by Sneevliet and we have sympathizers in Sneevliet's party. We believe that the attitude of the conference will be decisive for the Dutch party. They must be made to understand that it is not a detail.

As for Vereecken, at the time Sneevliet expelled our comrades, Vereecken approved because, he said, they had developed a factional attitude inside the Sneevliet party. The Belgian section also has a Dutch-speaking section, and the comrades there endorsed our policy, whereupon Vereecken threatened them with expulsion. They are an international clique; they constantly fight against the line of the IS. In a certain sense, Vereecken is a valuable worker, very devoted to the movement and very energetic, but this worker has all the bad qualities of an intellectual.

Cannon: The thing that does not satisfy us about the European groups is that they never seem to finish a question – they never bring their struggle to a conclusion. Half of the success we have had in the U.S. is due to the fact that we come to a point with people who cannot be assimilated. We discuss with them so far only; when they break from the organization, all relations end.

The European comrades don't bring their discussions to a conclusion. It appears to us that they split too lightly and are too quick to unite again. With such people as Vereecken we have followed the policy of coming to a definitive conclusion after thorough discussion. We cannot build the Fourth International with permanent discussion mongers.

I think the conference has to lay down its political line and say to all: Here is our program and platform. Let those who are with us come along on this basis. Let others go their own way.

I believe we must ask the young comrades in the Belgian and French sections to insist on such a position, and terminate all relations with those who reject the conference decisions, no matter who they may be. In the conference itself there should be a discussion on the question of "discussion." We must make it clear that we discuss, not for the sake of discussion but in order to come to a conclusion and to act. It was never clear to us, for example, how Vereecken, after breaking so lightmindedly with the Belgian section and so lightly reuniting, could immediately become political secretary – the highest post in the party. It creates the impression that one can tear the organization to pieces with impunity, then unite and start over again as though nothing had happened. That is a hopeless policy in our opinion. The comrades of the Fourth International must have courage, if a break is made, to make the break definitive.

In the U.S. we consider a break with the organization a capital crime. We do not start all over again with such people the next day. We try to inculcate this spirit in the young comrades so that they will understand that loyalty to the organization is something sacred. They value the unity of the organization in the highest degree. That is why our last discussion was so successful – nobody threatened to split. Consequently the party could allow the greatest amount of freedom in the discussion without fear of split or of dragging the discussion out forever. I think that is one thing the European comrades must develop – the conception that the Fourth International is formed as a definite organization to which every member must be loyal. Those who lightly make splits must be chopped off and cast aside.

Trotsky: I subscribe to every word said by Comrade Cannon. I will only add that the situation in the Belgian party was complicated from this point of view, that it contained members from the Socialist Party without revolutionary education. We have Dauge, a young comrade, very active, but educated in the spirit of the Vereecken party, without any spirit of revolutionary discipline. Then there is Lesoil – an excellent comrade who is completely absorbed by his local sphere of action. It was a difficult situation.

That was also the reason, why, in this situation, Vereecken could become again the national secretary. The misfortune was that the comrades from the SP, as soon as they split from it, immediately became partisans of independent trade unions. It was the greatest blow for the new party. I exchanged correspondence with Dauge on this question – it was during our stay in Norway and the police got hold of this correspondence, published it, and accused us of Machiavellian schemes; it made the situation more difficult. Vereecken is not interested in the trade union question – only in discussing it. Dauge was in favor of independent unions. Now he has learned a bit, but meanwhile it was a catastrophe for the party. Lesoil was in principle against this attitude but in practice supported Dauge.

I believe that the separation from Sneevliet is complete and that he will not appear at the conference. He didn't answer my last letter in which I stated that, in spite of everything, if he wishes to be with the Fourth International, etc., he should answer and we will do what we can, etc.

As far as Vereecken is concerned he should be given a serious warning by a most responsible party. He will appear at the conference and criticize, but I believe it necessary to issue a sharp, personal warning, enumerating all his errors. He should be warned that our patience is at an end. He is not a young boy; he is forty. He is a chauffeur, works eight hours, then he is very active, writes articles, delivers speeches, etc.; but he is very dangerous for the party.

Cannon: What progress has the French section made this year?

Trotsky: They haven't recorded great progress during this year – it was a year of People's Front illusions and only the most courageous elements could approach our party. On the other hand, this situation engendered some sectarian tendencies. Some elements look for an explanation for the stagnation and the too slow development not in the objective situation – the great wave of People's Frontism – but in the insufficiency of our slogan, namely, that we consider it our aim to defend the Soviet Union in case of war. This is the tendency of Craipeau, a very good and honest element but dogmatic and with a scholastic kind of mind. In many questions his views coincide with Vereecken's but he is more disciplined in his attitude, more accessible to influence, etc.

The situation in our International is not bad in spite of the sharp discussion on the Russian question. I believe the problem is to check, control, verify their attitude on the trade unions. The trade unions in France, during the last years, became powerful organizations. They had one million in two organizations. Then they merged. Now they have five million in the unified organization; the leadership is more or less in the hands of the Stalinists, and they cover themselves by support of the People's Front. But now the task is to prepare for the approaching crisis in the People's Front. A break between the SP and the CP has already started. This should give a forward impulsion to our French section. They have the correct principles, but the American comrades can help with their practical work.

They had two other incidents which hurt the organization – one member of the National Committee was counterfeiting money – I don't know whether it was to make the party prosperous or for personal reasons. Naturally he was expelled and the party showed it was not done under its direction. But it was a great blow. The second incident was that of two young comrades, Fred Zeller and Corvin. Zeller came to us in Norway with a mandate from the young socialists. I told him, "Now you are the center of attack by the Stalinists, you must be cautious." Immediately he wrote a postcard to a Stalinist and said, "Down with Stalin!" It was reproduced in the Stalinist press. Then he wrote me that he had learned a lesson and would be more cautious with the Stalinists. But he got into the clutches of the Stalinists in some shady intrigue, and so did the other young comrade, and they were both expelled. They were leaders of the youth movement and it was a blow to the movement.

I believe that we should warn our youth in the U.S. We have new elements – devoted but not experienced. They don't know what the Stalinists can do to provoke them. Queer propositions will come from different sides. It is possible that you can find a young revolutionary worker or student involved with genuine fascists (they may be from the Gestapo and the GPU at the same time), and these intrigues can be absolutely fatal for our organization, for revolutionary internationalism.

R.: what about Indochina? Don't we have a strong section there?

Trotsky: Yes, it's a very good section. The leader is in prison. They had a big weekly and I believe the organization has been declared illegal by our French socialist minister of colonies – I believe that the paper was also – I do not know if it comes out regularly now – I haven't seen it for two months.

Shachtman: Yes, it comes out – I've seen copies.

Cannon: And Molinier?

Trotsky: Molinier publishes a theoretical organ. He declares that he is in principle with us but that our organizational policy is bad and he has a better one. His organization is permeated by hatred of our organization. It is very possible that you will be obliged, objectively, to devote attention to this question, and that at the conference Vereecken will defend him. Molinier should remain outside but the others, his members, can be admitted if they apply individually and if he remains outside. He is an element that can be very useful but only when we have a big organization. In an organization such as ours his people are only disrupters. You can propose to him to come to the U.S. and promise him friendly personal relations and after a year we will see.

As for the German section – it is more a question of organizing their paper. Naturally, as an emigre movement it has no mass basis. It has Unser Wort, which appears regularly. The German sections of Switzerland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia have established a theoretical monthly, Der Einzige Weg [The Only Road]. The German section proper is not represented but Walter Held participates in it. I have written to him, asking him why the section does not participate, and I await an answer. The best thing would be to transform the organ into one for all German-speaking comrades, and I believe that is feasible. We have very good comrades, Johre and Fischer. Johre is a very good Marxist. In emigration things are very bad. He is embittered – that's why he refused to issue a theoretical monthly for the whole section – but it's necessary. The comrades are very well educated theoretically. Adolphe, for example, was quite green a few years ago, but now he is an educated Marxist. He writes very well in three languages and knows six other languages. But the misfortune is that Sneevliet, Vereecken, and now Serge refuse to recognize the authority of the IS – because it is composed of young boys and their policy is a thousand times better.

Cannon: And Maslow-Fischer?

Trotsky: They are Maslow-Fischer. On all questions that provoke a discussion – Russia, Spain, China – they are against our line. They have a paper and they sign their articles "Buntari" – insurgents. They're always insurgents; it's a different mentality they have.

Serge is an excellent poet, a literary man. He writes very well and has a long anarchist past. He remained in Russia for years in Stalinist prisons. He was courageous and honest and did not capitulate, which is a very good characteristic. But he didn't follow the development of the Fourth International. He came with some very vague ideas – with the imagination of a poet – to embrace the whole world: the POUM, the anarchists, us. I received a personal letter from him, referring to Sedov, and in it he mentioned that in spite of differences of a secondary nature, etc., etc., he is with us. Only they are not of a secondary nature. It would be very good if our American friends took the initiative in advising him not to enter into politics. I too will try to write to him – it's a very delicate matter – that I consider him one of the best revolutionists and one of the best writers, but not a politician.

Rosmer is very friendly to us. He was connected with Sneevliet but he is now dissatisfied with him. I don't believe that he will take an active part in the movement but his moral authority can be very useful to us.

It is very hard for our French comrades, they live amidst financial misery – there is absolutely no comparison with our rich Yankees. A one-dollar bill – thirty francs – in the IS, is a fortune.

Cannon: We have sent fifty dollars; we have a regular monthly pledge for the IS.

Trotsky: Oh, that's very, very good. And they are very economical.

It is necessary to have a sub-secretariat in New York, with the perspective that the sub-secretariat may become the real secretariat. We do not know the fate of Europe if fascism continues to advance. If it does, then America will be the only place and a sub-secretariat is necessary.