Contribution Toward a Discussion on the Basic Theoretical Conceptions of the International Communist League

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1. Without any doubt the old controversy "between Lenin and Trotsky" over the perspectives of the Russian Revolution is only of historical interest, and in any case membership in the Left Opposition is not conditional upon taking sides in the controversy. Whoever wants to take a definite position, however, must analyze it in connection with the concrete course of the class struggle and the revolutionary groupings in Russia at that time.

2. The epigones have deduced from the old disputes, which went through various stages, a few general rules of revolutionary strategy and laid them down in the form of an antithesis between Leninism and Trotskyism. But the latter is no longer a question of history, but of the present and the future. Comrade L. P. declares himself (at least in principle) in agreement with those strategic principles that the Stalinists have declared to be "Trotskyism" but that are in reality the application of Marxism to the conditions of our epoch. This solidarity, as tested by experience, is much more important than the difference of opinion over a long-since-settled controversy.

3. However, where Comrade L. P. refers in his theses back to the historical controversy, he makes a number of mistakes. "In reality," he writes, "the overthrow of czarism was in fact the work of the worker and peasant masses." In this he sees the proof that Lenin's view was correct as against mine. In this connection, however, there existed no dispute between us. Already in the polemic with Radek, sought to point out that every "great” revolution, i. e., a true people's revolution, was and is the doing of the proletarian (pre-proletarian) and peasant (petty-bourgeois) masses. This thesis formed the common ground in the dispute. The only question was which class would assume the leading position and consequently come to power. L. P. admits that the Russian proletariat actually seized power sooner than the Western European proletariat; but he calls attention to the fact that this happened not in the "revolution against czarism, but in the second revolution against the bourgeoisie." What does this imply? By a bourgeois revolution, the Russian Marxists worthy of the name meant, above all, the solution of the agrarian question. This concept, which differentiated them from the liberals and from the Mensheviks, represented a basic viewpoint common to both Lenin and Trotsky (see the minutes of the Fourth Party Congress). The fact that in February the propertied classes, among them the nobility, including the princes, surrendered (temporarily) the monarchy in the interest of self-preservation was an episode that no prognosis could predict After the abdication of Nicholas II, the land problem, Le., the problem of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, occupied next to the war problem the predominant position in political life. It was precisely on the basis of this revolution that the proletariat came to power.

4. It follows then that in countries where, despite backwardness, the division into basic classes (the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, the proletariat) cuts through the whole nation (China, India), the national-emancipation and bourgeois-democratic revolution cannot be brought to a conclusion without the dictatorship of the proletariat It is precisely in this that the continuity (permanence) between the bourgeois and the socialist revolution lies. The revolution in China passed through a number of stages; its road in India will be no less complicated and tortuous. We shall, of course, follow and analyze each stage. But the task of strategic prognosis is not to deduce the concrete stages and episodes but to formulate the basic tendency of revolutionary development This basic tendency is indicated by the formula of the permanent revolution, which is based upon three concepts:

a. The national bourgeoisie, which during the initial stages seeks to utilize the revolution for itself (Kuomintang, Gandhi), invariably goes over to die other side of the barricades, to the feudal classes and the imperialist oppressors, in the course of further development of the revolution.

b. The petty bourgeoisie (peasantry) can no longer play a leading role in the bourgeois revolution and, consequently, cannot take power. Hence flows the rejection of the slogan of the bourgeois-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.

c. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the bourgeois-democratic revolution passes over into the socialist revolution, which can triumph completely only as a link in the world revolution.

The transgression of these principles has already resulted in great damage in China, India, Japan and other countries.

5. The theory of the permanent revolution stands refuted, according to Comrade L.P., by the fact that the peasantry has failed in sixteen years to overthrow the dictatorship of the proletariat, contrary to the old fears of Trotsky. This argument, too, goes wide of the mark. Not only before but also after the October Revolution Lenin expressed dozens of times the thought that without the speedy support of the world proletariat the Soviet power would be overthrown. It was a question of estimating empirically numerous and contradictory factors, which it is impossible to forecast according to the calendar. If, thanks to an entire series of circumstances, Soviet power has maintained itself for sixteen years in a single country, that is as little evidence against the international character of the revolution as it is against the fact that the power of resistance of the proletarian dictatorship is the weaker the more numerous the peasantry.

6. Comrade L.P. approaches very closely the long-refuted argument of Bukharin that on an international scale the proportion between workers and peasants is not more favorable than it is within the borders of the Soviet Union. This is scholasticism. The question is decided not by static but by social forces, not by the average percentage of workers in the entire world but by the order in which the individual countries are drawn into the revolution. If, for example, the Brandler leadership had not wrecked the German Revolution in 1923, the statistical proportions between proletariat and peasantry on a world scale would have naturally remained unchanged, but the forces of the proletarian revolution would have been multiplied many times. Soviet Germany would have pulled Europe headlong into the revolution. The transformation of Europe into a socialist fortress would have changed the relationship of forces in the entire world. The backward countries would have entered into the revolution under the most favorable circumstances; the counterrevolutionary convulsions would have been infinitely less dangerous.

7. As regards the question of socialism in one country, Comrade L.P. offers a number of ambiguous formulations. He begins by adducing without comment the famous quotation from Lenin's article, in the year 1915, on the possibility of "the victory of socialism at first in a few countries or even in a single country." As is well known, Stalin deduced his entire theory from this quotation. In the literature of the Left Opposition, however, it is proven irrefutably that Lenin in this, as in many other cases, implied by "the victory of socialism" the seizure of power by the working class, Le., the creation of the socialist state, but not the erection of a socialist society. Or is Comrade L.P. the least bit in doubt on this score? A careful reading of this quotation will dispel his doubts.

8. Comrade L.P. attempts to reduce the theory of socialism in one country to a hollow abstraction. If intervention from abroad and counterrevolution at home fail to materialize, the technology of the Soviets will keep on growing, the standard of living and the culture of the masses will continue to rise steadily, and socialism can be realized. But as Comrade L.P. concedes, this abstract possibility is unrealizable in the face of the extreme sharpness of class antagonisms on a world scale. In his opinion, Russia's "backwardness" has nothing to do with the case. National backwardness may be overcome without overcoming the sharpening of the class war in the entire world.

But that is just the point To overcome backwardness takes a long time; in the meantime the development of the world class struggle does not grant the USSR an unlimited respite. Moreover, the overcoming of backwardness puts terrific burdens upon the toiling masses. The fact that the Russian workers sixteen years after the revolution have not enough to eat frightens off the workers of other countries, hinders the development of world revolution and increases the danger to the USSR.

9. How is the abstract "possibility" of the building of socialism in one country to be understood at all? If Russia were alone in the world, there would have been ho October Revolution in 1917. If one dismisses in his mind the world economy after the October Revolution, then Russia left to herself would have reverted back to capitalism. For within the framework of the Soviet Union capitalism had far from, exhausted its possibilities as yet In the field of production, the Soviet regime is only now "catching up" to the capitalist countries. The dictatorship of the proletariat maintains itself in the USSR because the world economy, of which Russian capitalism was a part drove into a blind alley. But mortal danger (fascism) threatens the dictatorship from that very same source.

10. The real question "is not the possibility of socialism in one country but the international unity of the revolutionary class struggle." In this formula L.P. transforms international unity into the same sort of an abstraction as he previously did with the building of socialism in one country. If one teaches the workers that the warding off of military intervention guarantees the complete and final victory of socialism in the USSR, then the question of world revolution loses its significance, and foreign policy comes down to the prevention of intervention. In this way the Stalinist bureaucracy has ruined the Comintern and can ruin the Soviet state. The theory of socialism in one country and the international unity of the proletarian struggle exclude each other in reality.

11. The bureaucracy in the USSR is neither a moral nor a technological factor but a social one, Le., a class factor. The struggle between the socialist and capitalist tendencies assumed primarily the character of a struggle between the social interests represented by the state and the personal interests of the consumers, the peasants, the civil employees and the workers themselves. In the given situation, the overcoming of class antagonisms means the harmonizing of the social interests of production with the personal interest of the consumers, while during the present stage of development personal interest still remains the prime mover of the economy. Has this harmonizing been accomplished? No! The growth of bureaucratism reflects the growth of the contradiction between the private and social interests. Representing the "social" interests, the bureaucracy identifies them to a large measure with its own interests. It draws the distinction between the social and the private in accordance with its own private interests. This creates a still greater tension between the contradictions and consequently leads to a further growth of bureaucratism. At the bottom of these processes lie the backwardness of the USSR and its isolation in its capitalist environment

12. The empiricists say that for sixteen years the Soviet power has been making rapid strides, and should this continue socialism will most certainly be completed. We reply to this that "should this continue? the process must inevitably lead to an internal explosion, most probably with the aid of a shock from outside, but possibly also without one. Military intervention is, generally speaking, only dangerous to the extent that, first, it finds within the Soviet Union an extreme sharpening of the contradictions and, secondly, that military intervention creates a breach for the intervention of cheap capitalist goods. Both of these conditions show that the problem of socialism is not solved and — insofar as it is a question not in the domain of abstraction but in the sphere of reality — that it will not be solved without the international revolution.

13. From these considerations, some especially clever people draw the conclusion that we are robbing the Russian workers of their "perspectives." Others go still further and accuse us of denying the usefulness and necessity of socialist construction in the USSR; why indeed build if nothing (!!) results anyway (!). It is hardly worthwhile to reply to such an absurdity. If I say that the human organism cannot live without breathing fresh air, I do not deny, thereby, the benefits of nutrition nor the importance of the stomach as an organ of digestion.

14. Regarding the USSR and the Comintern, what Comrade L. P. says about the dependence of the Comintern upon the political interests of the Soviet bureaucracy is, by and large, correct and has been, contrary to his assertions, repeatedly stated in the literature of the Left Opposition. Nevertheless, even here Comrade L. P. permits himself ambiguous formulations, if not mistakes. Thus he says that the Soviet bureaucracy has artificially transferred its internal controversies into the Comintern. If one disregards the criminal methods of the bureaucracy (the throttling of criticism, fraud, forgery, framed accusations and venality), the fact nevertheless remains that the factional groupings within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were essentially of international significance. This is especially true of the Left Opposition. True, it developed on the immediate basis of the Russian questions: the tempos of industrialization and the regime in the party. But even these questions immediately came to assume international importance. The problem of bureaucratism affected the Comintern immediately and directly. Back in 1924-25, the struggle centered entirely around the question of the German Revolution (Lessons of October). In 1926 the struggle became acute on the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee and the Piłsudski coup d'état in Poland. The year 1927 stands completely under the sign of the Chinese Revolution. Through all these years runs the struggle on the question of the "workers' and peasants' parties" for the East, on the Krestintern (and by the way, where has it disappeared to?), etc. 1928 is the year of the struggle over the program of the Comintern. 1929-33: ultraleftism in the economic policy of the USSR, the "third period," the Spanish revolution, the problem of fascism. The Communist Right Opposition (KPO) ignored the most important questions of international revolutionary strategy, and unfortunately this reflects itself today quite negatively in the SAP leadership.

15. On centrism Comrade L. P. makes a major methodological mistake when he refuses to recognize the apparently "Russian" division of the Communist camp into Lefts, centrists and Rights. In his opinion the Rights in Russia are actually liquidators. In the West, however, the percentage of liquidators among the Rights is not large. "The course of the best section of the KPO, which by way of the SAP has come around very close to the Left Opposition … speaks clearly enough for itself.'' All these considerations, apart from whether they are essentially correct or not, do not refute but support our classification, especially the division of the centrists into Rights and Lefts. In order for the SAP to approximate the ideas of the Left Opposition, its members had to split away from the left wing of the Social Democracy while its leaders had to break with the Brandlerites. Ideologically, however, this process is not yet completed.

If Comrade L.P. wants to say that not all the Brandlerites are lost for the revolution, we will gladly admit this. To take the path of revolution (under the present historical conditions, the path of the new International), they must break with the right centrist and especially with the centrist peculiarities and methods (the disdainful attitude toward theory, the inadequate understanding of the international organization, and the disregard for problems of revolutionary strategy or the supplanting of them by questions of tactics, etc.).

One may state it as a general rule that antipathy toward the concept centrism, and toward all further subdivisions of centrism is typical of tendencies that are either centrist themselves or have not yet finally freed themselves from their intellectual amorphousness.

16. The collapse of the German Social Democracy and the German Communist Party ushered in a whole period of degeneration, fermentation and recrystallization within the proletarian vanguard. But in the given case "fermentation'' means nothing else than passing through intermediate or centrist stages of development Whether in any individual case we have to deal with degeneration or revolutionary recrystallization depends upon the direction in which the movement in question takes place; from left to right or from right to left and so on. Hence flows the necessity to differentiate between right centrism, left centrism, etc. These concepts, of course, are nothing absolute. But relative as they are, they are quite indispensable for Marxist orientation, in contradistinction to a vulgar and empirical orientation. Proletarian politicians can as little dispense with them as the mariners with the map and compass.

17. Let us take two examples: the Norwegian Labor Party (NAP) and the Swedish Independent Communist Party. The NAP is steering a course from centrism to reformism. To complete this development without internal explosions, Tranmæl needed a mask and a cover. This covering was supplied him by his connection with the independent socialist parties of other countries. Today, feeling himself firmly in the saddle, he is beginning to repay by kicking those who held his stirrups; an experience by no means new.

It is a grave, opportunistic mistake for the SAP and OSP leaders to have signed together with Tranmæl die resolution for a joint fight for the rebirth of the revolutionary (!) movement; this mistake resulted from a vulgarly empirical attitude toward the task of gathering forces and a lack of Marxist evaluation of their tendencies and course of development.

The Swedish Independent Communist Party, as far as I am able to judge on the basis of extremely meager material, is developing from the Brandler position toward the left It goes without saying that every revolutionary internationalist will strive with might and main in order that this development may lead to a rapprochement and to common endeavors on the basis of the principles of the new International. But it is impermissible to pass off hopes for actual facts by substituting a possible tomorrow for today. The Swedish party not only voted for the same resolution as Tranmæl but also refused to sign the declaration for the Fourth International. Although they are agreed upon the necessity of a new International in principle, the party leaders consider its proclamation to be "premature." Actually a centrist vacillation lies behind this attitude. Today it is not a question of proclaiming the new International but of proclaiming the necessity for the new International and for formulating its basic principles before the eyes of the working class of the world.

Inasmuch as under these circumstances the SAP and OSP signed the declaration for the new International with one hand and with the other signed the declaration together with Tranmæl, Balabanova, Paul Louis and others, they hinder the formation of necessary clarity; they set the vacillators a new example of vacillation; they retard the revolutionary development of the Swedish party as well as that of a number of other organizations. One cannot be guided solely by the ambition to amass as much as possible. One has to keep a political chart and a compass before oneself. Mass quantity can be the result only of principled quality.

18. Comrade L. P. is quite correct when he insists that the sections of the old Left Opposition should cease to consider themselves only as an opposition or only as auxiliaries to the Russian Opposition. They must act as cadres (a part of the cadres) of the new national parties and new International. Comrade L. P. differentiates himself favorably in this question from those empiricists who do not understand the vanguard role of the Left Opposition, because they allow themselves to be guided at bottom by a purely trade-union criterion (the criterion of bare numbers), instead of by a Marxist criterion, which proceeds from the decisive role of theory, principles and methods.

19. The idea of Comrade L. P. that we should keep a catalogue of the dead and living sections of the Comintern is false. This question has been sufficiently dealt with in our discussion. If in this or that country we shall be able to capture the majority in the national section, then it will be not through the idea of reform, but through openly establishing the new International. Thus did the Third International in its own day capture the majority of the French Social Democracy.

20. It is quite correct that in the literature of the Left Opposition very important questions of most modern economic and political developments have not been treated. Treatises of such nature presuppose the growth of the cadres, the assimilation of new forces, a broader division of labor, including the theoretical work.

On the other hand, one must realize that the theoretical work of the various tendencies as well as the immediate development of world economy and politics during the last decade has produced nothing in contradiction to the most important programmatic and strategic principles of the Left Opposition and its revolutionary perspective. In this lies the greatest guarantee for the success of the future construction.