Letter to Yvan Craipeau, July 12, 1934

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Alternatives for the Young Socialists

Dear Comrade Craipeau:

Since my last letter to you I have presented my view in a letter addressed to the leadership, but I feel the need to supplement what I wrote to you. The foremost question is the JS. The perspective you set out is a very tempting one, but I am afraid that it may be somewhat too optimistic and that you may be making the same kind of error in judgment as your failure to recognize the necessity to carry out a bold turn.

You say: “We have 150 members, the JS in Paris 950. They are in a struggle against their leadership. All they need to give them a new leadership is us. We will have 1,000 Bolshevik-Leninists.” Are you sure of that? The youth are gravitating toward our ideas. A portion, I imagine, have decided to follow us to the end. But the majority, faced with the necessity to make a definitive and irrevocable choice between us and the SFIO will decide against us so as not to be separated from the mass of workers. And at that moment you will lose all access to the Young Socialists.

Don’t forget the strength of the apparatus. It follows closely what is happening among the youth and it has in hand an instrument of imposing strength, the united front with the Stalinists. Paul Faure will tell the youth, if he has not already done so: “You must choose between the small group of Leninists, who simply proclaim the idea of the united front, and the real united front represented by the SFIO and the CP.”

Keep in mind the experience with the members of the PUP. That was a small rehearsal of what will happen again with the Socialists. We were likewise almost on the eve of a fusion. But there was the pressure of the apparatus, which counterposed proletarian unity (of the SFIO, the CP, and the PUP) to the small sect of the Leninists, and as a result your whole perspective collapsed. It is correct that the PUP’s youth group also collapsed; but the JS, with its present ideology, may well collapse too in contact with the Stalinists, and without any gain for the revolution.

In any case, you will have perhaps about fifty of this thousand, more or less. And it is precisely that fifty, ready to follow us, which is inclined to oppose our entry into the SP. But the 900 would be very happy if you were not to force them right now to choose between correct ideas that they do not understand sufficiently and the “united front,” with its base among the masses. If you enter the JS you will create for yourselves the possibility not only of winning the thousand persons in Paris, but of spreading your influence throughout the whole of France. Unless that happens, the bureaucracy will bring about an abortion.

Naturally the fifty (I take this number hypothetically) who are loyal to us are very precious to us, but since they have already understood our basic ideas they will be quite capable of understanding as well the necessity of a broad roundabout action in support of those same ideas while the others, the 900, are still to be won.

What is the meaning of the almost general aversion to the proposal of the comrades of Bes? That hatred of reformism, social patriotism, and the Second International is deeply rooted in our own ranks, despite the loathing that the Stalinists’ policy so rightly inspires in us. But without that unyielding hostility toward reformism, the Bes. proposal would in no way be possible, because what is involved is a maneuver (in the good, not the bad, sense of the word) that is completely unique, dictated by exceptional circumstances and involving many risks for the organization that undertakes it. But passive hostility to reformism is not enough. One must know how to strike blows against it and circumstances permit such blows to be struck only from within, by both saving the bulk of the party from decomposition and winning it to the revolution.

The course of events — don’t forget this, I beg of you — does not leave us very much time, perhaps only a few months more. The situation can be saved only through a sharp and vigorous reorientation of the proletarian vanguard. If that perspective is achieved, we will be borne aloft by the radicalization of the Socialist workers, and within a few months we will reap the fruit of the work of the previous years. If on the contrary the French proletariat is doomed to catastrophe (which I choose not to believe), the total decomposition of its two great parties is inevitable, but the most courageous nucleus of the SFIO will remain with us in illegality if we enter its ranks today.

We must know how to identify our immediate tasks not from the standpoint of some ready-made formulas or of traditional and essentially justified sentiments, but from the standpoint of the whole situation, which is unprecedented and which imposes corresponding decisions on us.

Here are my conclusions. We have launched the action program. It summarizes a long propagandist period. We must now know how to draw the balance sheet of the results of this important action; but not a vague balance sheet, not to speak of a fictitious one, as has been done often enough, but a serious and conscientious balance sheet that talks in facts and figures. One month, beginning with the opening of the discussion, should generally suffice for that.

During this same time, that is, the two or three weeks that remain, you should evaluate more objectively your relations with the JS and the dynamics of those relations, and from these two experiences you must draw the necessary conclusion. Above all, do not lose time; there is not much left.

With best greetings,

Vidal [Leon Trotsky]

P.S. I would like to add some further thoughts to these conclusions, on the slogan for a new party, on the one hand, and on organic unity (fusion between the SFIO and the CP), on the other. To be understood by the masses we should pose the question in the following way: “We are not opponents of organic unity either, but on condition that it is preceded by a clarification on both sides. The Bolsheviks, in analogous situations, had a recognized formula: first demarcation, then unification.” In this framework our entry into the SFIO would be aimed at accelerating the preliminary demarcation in order to prepare the unification of the proletarian vanguard.

I ask you to share the contents of this letter with the comrades of the leadership who express the desire to be acquainted with it.