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Leon Trotsky 19380524 Once More on Comrades Sneevliet and Vereecken

Leon Trotsky: Once More on Comrades Sneevliet and Vereecken

May 24, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York ²1976, p. 336-342]


I raised the question of the erroneous conduct of Comrade Sneevliet in the Reiss case privately in a strictly confidential letter to Sneevliet. My purpose was to give Sneevliet himself the chance to understand the error he had made.

Comrade Vereecken deemed it necessary to inject this confidential letter into the discussion with the Brussels organization on the policy of the Dutch RSAP. In other words, Comrade Vereecken, for factional purposes, manifestly abused my letter – after which he complains about the contamination of a principled struggle by false "methods." But now that this question has been raised in the open I must give an explanation.

Sneevliet's first error was to evaluate in a completely false manner the political and practical situation surrounding the Reiss case, and he was unable to give Comrade Reiss the necessary advice. I spoke of that, without naming Sneevliet, in the article "A Tragic Lesson," which was printed in different languages, including in the press of the Belgian section. I will not repeat my arguments here. Walter Krivitsky and A. Barmin used precisely the mode of operation I suggested in the article "A Tragic Lesson." Up to now the results have been infinitely more favorable, as much in the area of politics as in the area of personal security.

Sneevliet's second error was to subordinate a political fact of enormous importance (Reiss's break with Moscow) to secondary considerations with respect to the priority of his organization, his newspaper, his "enterprise." Not only did he not consult with the representatives of the Russian section, in particular with me, on what path to choose, but on the contrary he put off the meeting between Reiss and Sedov by all possible means and under different pretexts.

Anyone who knows Sneevliet's politics and his modes of action will also understand with no trouble that Sneevliet was motivated by hostility toward our international organization.

Reiss addressed himself to Sneevliet not as an individual but as a representative of the Fourth International. He saw in Sneevliet a liaison with our international organization, in particular with me. Sneevliet could not or would not tell him that in reality he had already broken with our organization and was leading a struggle against it on an international scale. Without explaining to Reiss the situation that had come about, Sneevliet maneuvered, stalled, and blocked with all the forces at his command a meeting and an agreement between Reiss and ourselves. Sneevliet's ambiguous relationship to the Fourth International created a doubly ambiguous relationship between Sneevliet and Reiss.

If Reiss had known that Sneevliet was locked in combat with the Fourth International, he would undoubtedly have found other channels and we might perhaps have succeeded in giving him good political advice in time.

This leads us to our own collective mistake: we have tolerated Sneevliet's ambiguous attitude for too long; that is, we allowed him to appear in the spotlight as one of the leaders of the Fourth International and at the same time to ignore our international organization and to undermine it with all the means at his disposal. A revolutionary organization does not have the right to allow such ambiguities, for they can always result in serious and even tragic consequences.

We must get to the bottom of this lesson in a serious way. We can provide evidence of the greatest good will and patience toward parties which are outside our international organization but are moving in our direction. We can and must prove ourselves capable of the greatest patience when it comes to resolving internal questions in our organization. But we cannot allow dual accountability, that is, give our ideological opponents the right to hide behind the banner of the Fourth International, and at the same time at each step violate its internal discipline and trample underfoot the elementary duty of loyalty.

This lesson shows in particular that we must reject once and for all the ridiculous and obsolete expression "for the Fourth International." Our organization is the organization of the

Fourth International. Let those who do not wish to understand this retain their independence for a while. But we cannot permit anyone to have one foot in our organization and the other outside, all the more freely to strike blows at us.


Vereecken's attempt, for purely factional reasons, to whitewash Sneevliet at the expense of. Sedov is disgraceful in the fullest sense of the word. The factual history of the affair has been very well brought to light by Comrades Etiènne and Paulsen in their letter printed in Bulletin No. 14 of the PSR. Only a blind person or one with no conscience whatever could propose – after this letter, which contains numerous facts and quotations – a resolution in the style of Vereecken.

After innumerable delays on Sneevliet's part, Sedov, who was quite ill, did not have the strength to go to Rheims to meet with Reiss on September 6, as he informed Sneevliet. But Sneevliet, in his usual manner, stormed "Now or never." In a letter to me Sneevliet speaks with irony of the fondness people in Paris have for vacations. Vereecken expounds the same theme. In fact, Sedov was never acquainted with vacations, for he worked for the movement not less, but more than many others. If he found it necessary to leave Paris for two weeks, it was only because his physical condition had become intolerable, as the physicians revealed while Sedov struggled against death. To speak of Sedov's "vacations" is not only disgraceful but absurd as well, for by September 6, the date fixed for the meeting in Rheims, Reiss had already been killed. Consequently, Sedov's physical inability to be at the meeting had not the slightest effect on the fate of Reiss.

The first meeting of Reiss and Sneevliet took place July 10. Between this meeting and the meeting set for Rheims, Reiss spent a large portion of his time in Paris, that is, right where Sedov was. The fact that they did not meet during that time is entirely Sneevliet's fault. All of Sedov's letters which are relevant to this affair are in my hands. If necessary, I will publish them.

Sneevliet's errors in the Reiss case are not accidental. Sneevliet has broken completely with the revolutionary perspective. He approaches all questions from the point of view of his little bureaucratic apparatus. Sneevliet is not a Marxist but a pure-and-simple trade unionist. He is concerned only with the interests of his little enterprise: the NAS. To him, the party is no more than an appendage of the NAS, and the name of the Fourth International is no more than a cover for public view. During the last International Conference, in 1936, Sneevliet, who was there as a delegate from the city of P., boycotted the sessions under the pretext that I had been allowed to criticize his policies in a letter to the conference. Such a lack of respect for fraternal delegations is sufficient evidence that Sneevliet is an outsider within our movement. It is in this same way that Sneevliet approached the Reiss case, not from the point of view of the general tasks of the revolutionary struggle, but from the point of view of the secondary interests of his little enterprise. Only factional attorneys can defend Sneevliet's conduct in this affair.


Comrade Vereecken is waging a struggle against "a factional spirit." This has almost become his specialty. He wants to forbid the Bolsheviks from doing "factional" work in the centrist POUM. He wants to prevent members of the Fourth International from doing factional work in Sneevliet's centrist party. He is concerned, "aside from factions," with the reputation of the dirty schemer Eiffel, with whom even the Oehler sect publicly broke. Finally, Vereecken states that all criticism of his own politics is something "factional." Isn't all that appalling? For the revolutionary a Marxist faction in an opportunist party is a positive thing; a centrist faction in a revolutionary party is a negative thing. The Dutch Bolshevik who refuses to carry out "factional" (how horrible!) work against Sneevliet, who has disloyally broken with our organization, is a traitor and not a revolutionary. Is that not clear?

However, the most remarkable thing is that the most indefatigable factional work against the Fourth International is carried out precisely by Vereecken. With his little faction he split from our Belgian and international organization when the Belgian section temporarily entered the Socialist Party [POB – Belgian Labor Party]. Vereecken's factional and completely disloyal criticism hindered our Belgian section from doing more fruitful work within the Socialist Party. Having finally returned to the organization, Vereecken joined forces with all the ultra-left and centrist opponents of Bolshevism in various countries. Together with Sneevliet he supported Oehler and Muste against our

American section. Where is Oehler now? Where is Muste? All the while our American section has reported important success – against Vereecken and his international faction.

All the attempts to lead Sneevliet to an honest discussion were shattered against the obstinate resistance of this trade union bureaucrat. And each time, Vereecken found some argument to take up the defense of Sneevliet against Marxism. Oh, of course, Vereecken is "not in complete agreement" with Sneevliet. But that doesn't hinder him from always supporting Sneevliet, as in general all those who are preparing to abandon the Fourth International or are abandoning it already. Vereecken goes with them amicably right to the door; sometimes he himself stays outside, to return later and accuse the Fourth International of bad methods.


We must make a list of the names of all the deserters and turncoats to whom, in their turn, Vereecken has extended his sympathy. We must, on the other hand, make a list of all the faithful and intransigent revolutionaries in struggle against whom Vereecken has never restrained himself in the choice of means. Defending the POUM, he portrayed our devoted Spanish comrades as adventurers. Defending Sneevliet, he attempted to cast a shadow on Sedov. In France he tried to put our section into the same bag with the Molinier group. He is already anxious to know if Diego Rivera did not offend the innocent Eiffel. Toward the International Secretariat Vereecken permits himself an absolutely inadmissible tone. What does all that mean?

Most recently, our "impartial" and "anti-factional" Vereecken accused me in public of "not understanding the Belgian organization." What is the basis of this accusation? A letter from Diego Rivera was sent to Lesoil's address and not to Vereecken's. Now, I never had anything to do with the sending of this letter and in general I do not occupy myself with addresses. Comrade Van explained all that in detail in his recent statement. This little episode indicates how loyal Vereecken is and how well founded are the accusations he levels. It is noteworthy also that the accusations are invariably directed not against the ultralefts or centrists but against those who defend the Marxist line of the Fourth International.

No, the problem is not any supposed bad methods of the IS, but the very foundation of Vereecken's ideas. In his factional struggle he has removed himself far from the principles of Marxism. The Bolshevik position makes him feel ashamed and embarrassed at every step. Vereecken does not feel at ease. This is why he complains of our "methods," attacking the revolutionaries and defending the opportunists.

In my opinion, the International Conference will render a very great service to our Belgian section if it gives a proper assessment of Vereecken's factional work on the national and international levels. We accuse Vereecken not of having a factional attitude – a factional attitude against opportunism and sectarianism is honorable! – but of losing his footing on the ground of principle; of heading an anti-Marxist faction, which played and still plays the role of a brake on the development of the Fourth International. Let us hope that if the International Conference says that loud and clear, its warning will encourage Comrade Vereecken to radically revise his position, and especially his intolerable methods.


At the same time, as important as the personal question of Comrade Vereecken is, the question of the fate of our Belgian section as a whole is incomparably more important. Its development seems to be stagnating temporarily. As much as can be judged from afar, the cause of this stagnation is to a considerable degree the erroneous policies of Comrade Vereecken, which focused the attention of the party in a completely false direction. To assure the Belgian section's entry into the mainstream, the following measures in my opinion are necessary:

    1. It is necessary to explain to all the members of the section the dead-end character of Sneevliet's trade union policy and its absolute incompatibility with the tasks of a revolutionary party. Those who want to build or maintain their own caricature of a trade union have no place in the Fourth International.

    2. The principal and fundamental task of the Belgian section must be serious, systematic, and tenacious work inside the reformist trade unions. Any abandonment of this work, whatever the arguments or pretexts, must be considered desertion from the battlefield.

    3. Through the intermediary of the trade unions we must penetrate into the internal life of the Socialist Party, form a close

alliance with the socialist workers and make our agitation correspond to the internal life of the mass workers' organizations.

    4. In the same manner we must penetrate the labor youth organizations.

    5. The newspaper must reflect, to a much greater degree than at present, the internal life of the mass organizations, and must be concerned with their internal problems.

    6. Raising the level of theoretical understanding within the section is the indispensable condition for saving it from the sectarian and centrist tendencies of various leaders. Toward this end it is necessary to set up a serious theoretical monthly in French. If such an enterprise is not within the means of the Belgian section alone it may be necessary to have a single theoretical magazine for all the French-speaking countries.

The objective conditions for the development of the Belgian section are extremely favorable. It is only necessary to put aside the subjective obstacles in time.