Letter to Albert Glotzer, February 15, 1934

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Against Centrism at the Youth Conference

Dear Friend:

I have just read the discussion theses of the SJV of Holland. The impression is very sad. Were it a document of the young people themselves, insufficient theoretical and political maturity could be assumed, and the document could be regarded from a purely pedagogical point of view. Unfortunately, it gives the impression of being written by an inveterate centrist (two-and-a-half times over) who covers himself here and there with general, abstract, and radical sounding formulas. I cannot subject the document to a complete critique, because every sentence calls for criticism. I will pick out only the most important centrist and obfuscatory examples.

1. “Immediate national and international disarmament” (page 2). This pacifist-Kautskyist slogan has nothing to do with Marxism.

2. “The shortcomings of the democratic republic and the grave mistakes of the Communist parties and the Social Democracy” (page 2) are stated to be the cause for fascism. Not the class character of the capitalist republic, but its shortcomings! Not the reformist-imperialist leadership of the Social Democracy, and not the bureaucratic-centrist orientation of the Comintern, but their “mistakes.” But real Marxists also make mistakes. The sequence is also interesting: first the Communist parties and only then the Social Democracy.

3. The characterization of the Second International (pages 4 and 5) is partly insufficient and partly false. The Social Democracy is only characterized as a reformist party, where reformism is defined as “insufficient” from the standpoint of the social revolution. It is not mentioned that the workers’ aristocracy and its bureaucracy have integrated themselves into the capitalist state and — what is even more important — that the decay of capitalism has completely cut the ground out from under reforms. This in fact was what precipitated the decline of the Second International.

4. Even worse is the characterization of the official Communists (pages 5 to 8). Not a word about their political orientation, about the direction of their political line, i.e., bureaucratic centrism, which, driven by incredible contradictions, is developing along the sharpest zigzag course. Obviously there is no mention whatever of the social basis of bureaucratic centrism. Everything is explained in typically Brandlerite and Lovestoneite manner by saying that the line is dictated from Moscow and that all things cannot be rightly assessed from Moscow: hence the “mistakes.” But why these “mistakes” in all countries have the same character and why two opposition currents against these “mistakes” developed, the Right and the Left, which are also international in character — this question does not exist for the author of the theses.

The only indication of a political explanation consists of the mention that the Comintern is guided by the “interests” of the Soviet Union. Thus it is conceded — in agreement with Brandler — that the Comintern correctly understands and defends the interests of the Soviet Union.

What is said about the bad Comintern regime is idealist and Menshevik. The regime is regarded as a thing by itself, not as the expression of the conflict between the political orientation (bureaucratic centrism) and the historical interests of the proletariat, including the interests of the Soviet Union.

5. The chapter about the united front policy could have been written by Balabanova, Paul Louis, etc. The united front is supported with the argument that “despite many tactical differences” unity is necessary in practical matters. As if the Marxists were differentiated from the reformists and the Stalinists by “tactical differences.” It should read: despite irreconcilable principled differences in program and strategy, the united front in many tactical questions is forced upon the working class by the class struggle.

What follows is even worse. The “moral” decay of the proletariat is explained in a philistine-sentimental manner by “the split [of the Second International] and the ensuing fraternal strife.” As if, on the contrary, the split had not pulled the political vanguard out of the desperation of social imperialism.

The united front is further defended with arguments about the “highest feelings” and similar stuff. It seems like a dissertation of the pre-Marxian True Socialists.

“The Communists don’t recognize the principle of loyalty and fidelity” (page 8). Thus it is proven that the Communists do not support the united front for itself, but pursue egoistic aims of enlarging their own influence. The question could not be posed in a more ridiculous way. As if it were not the right and the duty of every party to try to attract the workers to itself by means of the united front. As if it were not the bounden duty of the revolutionary party, in the course of the united front, to unmask and compromise the treacherous scoundrels of the Social Democracy and the miserable centrist charlatans. One can only do the Stalinists a service by accusing them, as Wels, Leon Blum,Tranmæl, and other traitors do, of trying to “intrigue their way into other organizations.”

This is the voice of the frightened centrist, not the Marxist. We accuse the Stalinists of having proved themselves incapable, with their fundamentally false political line, of splitting the Social Democracy, compromising its leaders and drawing the masses towards themselves.

All the additional drivel (pages 9 and 10) about the “honorable” and “loyal” united front is idealist and Menshevik. Nothing is said about the content of the politics, only the abstract form of the united front is praised. This derives no additional weight from being covered with ethical rigmarole.

Too much talk about abstract morals is always a bad sign: class morals can only develop out of correct revolutionary class politics. They are not an independent higher entity which, in the sense of the Kantians, holds sway above social reality.

6. The chapter “attitude towards the Soviet Union” (pages 10 to 13) is extremely sloppy, purely descriptive, and abounds with small and large mistakes. Thus, for example, the paragraph starts by contrasting the October Revolution as a social transformation with “the bourgeois revolutions, which only aim at a political transformation.” A dead wrong liberal-conservative view! The real bourgeois revolutions were also social: they transformed feudal property relations into bourgeois ones, while the October Revolution has turned bourgeois economic relations into socialist ones.

The real contradictions in the Soviet economy, which have long been pointed out in detail by the Left Opposition, appear in this document in a totally distracting and confused manner. Now and then the author refers to the “fiasco” of the Soviet economy, which is totally wrong.

The whole chapter amounts to a plaintive accusation against the Soviet Union because it did not support the economic boycott of Germany. As if larger and more important things should not be mentioned. The OSP tried to initiate the boycott movement in a very superficial and false way, obviously suffered a fiasco in this area, and now wants to cover itself by a totally superficial and even false critique of Soviet policy.

7. About colonial policy (page 13), the theses assert that the oppressed peoples “have no other way to liberation but a relentless fight, including passive resistance and insurrection.” Despite the best intentions, centrism appears most blatantly in this sentence. “Relentless struggle” does not include passive resistance but rather excludes it. It goes without saying that we also defend passive resistance against the imperialist troops. But at the same time we denounce before the colonial masses the the treacherous aspects of Gandhism, whose mission is to retard the fight of the revolutionary masses and to exploit it in the interest of the “national” bourgeoisie.

8. The chapter about the youth organization is very thin — even though it deals with a youth conference! But in principled matters, too, the chapter is wrong in many points. As the social basis for the organization the “working, unemployed, and student youth” are cited. Again purely descriptive, not social. For us it is a question of the proletarian youth and those elements among the students that lean towards the proletariat. Working, unemployed, and student youth are for a Marxist in no way equal links in the social chain.

According to the theses, in the area of culture, the youth organization fights “against capitalist-bourgeois ‘education’ and for a proletarian culture.” Abstract, rhetorical, idealistic, and vacuous! At the moment bourgeois culture includes the invaluable wealth of the positive sciences. The aim of the working class is to appropriate this treasure. In the “area of culture” this can happen only in a highly inadequate way. Only through the proletarian revolution will the proletariat gain access to these treasures of bourgeois culture in order to build up on this basis — with the removal of all falsifications — a new socialist culture. What “proletarian culture” in this connection should really mean is not clear, especially since it is abstractly counterposed to bourgeois culture as a whole.

That youth should carry out its “historic task” “mainly (!) by propagating the united front” is wrong to the point of despair. The united front is only a tactical concomitant of the revolutionary struggle. Youth “mainly” has to prepare itself for the most bitter struggles — defensive struggles against fascism and offensive struggles against capitalism.

Further (still page 14) it is said that the revolutionary socialist youth should work together with the OSP. Does this apply to the international youth?… since the theses are submitted to an international conference as the basis of discussion. Why is only the OSP mentioned, i.e., just the party that up till now has had no time to take a clear programmatic and strategic position?

9. The conditions for membership in the new International (pages 16,17) are totally insufficient, and partly wrong. The Paris Declaration of Four stands in its precision far above the confused six points of the document under criticism. The first two paragraphs in this general version are very ordinary and universally accepted — including by Wels and Manuilsky. The third paragraph demands the rejection of reformism and Stalinism. Reformism is for Marxists a very concrete notion. What the theses mean by Stalinism is unfortunately incomprehensible. The fourth paragraph about the “honorable” united front is completely vague and, after what is said above, even dangerous because it is directed against “fraternal strife” and against split and thus in no way is able to explain the founding of a new International. The fifth point speaks for the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Nothing about the acquisition of power and nothing about workers’ soviets as the historically determined form for organizing the working class for the conquest and exercise of power. Point six talks about the “defense of a truly proletarian state.” What does that mean? It is a very concrete question whether we acknowledge the duty to defend the USSR as it is, isn’t it? This life-and-death question is avoided by talking about a truly revolutionary state.

This criticism is intended for our comrades (Internationalist-Communists), to make the task of public criticism easier for them. In my opinion, our delegates should present the critique in a quiet, propagandistic, pedagogic manner, of course without making the slightest concessions in principle.

It is very good that the OSP (de Kadt?) had the imprudence to submit these confused and contradictory theses. The whole conference should be dedicated to the critique of these theses and to counterposing sentence for sentence. For this counterposition is recommended:

a. the eleven points of the Left Opposition;

b. the Declaration of Four;

c. the theses against war;

d. the theses about the USSR (two pamphlets);

e. the documents newly developed for the conference.

Our delegates should pick the best formulations out of the above-mentioned literature of the ICL and counterpose them to the formulations of the theses for discussion. This work should be done now, in advance, so that our delegation can prove ready at every moment.

The old philistines will bait their young people against us because they will feel insulted by our criticism. Our friends must be very polite and friendly in their answers to the young people: we are only carrying out the right of mutual criticism so pompously spoken of in the theses (e.g., page 16).

The only positive thing about these theses is that they distinctly declare themselves for a new International and thus sharply counterpose themselves to the reformists as well as the Stalinists. We must use that against the NAP, against the leaders of the ILP, etc. There are no concessions to be made on this point. If the people from the OSP abandon the new International in order to bring about their “honorable, loyal united front” with Tranmæl and Fenner Brockway, then we must vote against the theses and make a strong protest statement: not to say openly to the workers now that salvation lies in the creation of a new International means to betray the workers.

If we can put through improvements in all major questions, we can vote for the theses with an explanation in which we mention the weak points and the shortcomings in a general way.

In any case our delegates must reserve their final decision for after the meeting of the international commission of the Internationalist-Communist youth.

The question of the NAP will (must) play a big role in the discussion together with the question of the London, now Amsterdam Bureau. Our delegates must be very well armed on this question. Somebody should specialize. Included are some documents which refer to the NAP. Comrade Glotzer promises to return these documents after the conference.

P.S. It is best to counterpose the declaration of principles of the four organizations to the six conditions of membership in the new International. If the SAP and the OSP object to this, they will only compromise themselves badly. But it would be best to win them in advance for it.

P.P.S. In the whole document the word “centrism” is not mentioned a single time. This is very characteristic and must be especially emphasized. Consistent reformism does not dare to come forward openly these days. Wels, Hilferding, Blum, de Man admit the bankruptcy of reformism, at least in words. All hide behind a pseudo-revolutionary, i.e., centrist attitude, or at least terminology. Centrism now dominates almost the whole field of the workers’ movement. Centrism is what we have to fight against now. Why do the theses not mention the existence and the danger of centrism? Because they themselves are within the framework of centrism.