Letter to the Editors of Action Socialiste Révolutionnaire, August 23, 1935

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 23 August 1935

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 8, 1935-36, New York ²1977, p. 95-98]

Dear Comrades:

I am an attentive and, you may be sure, friendly reader of Action Socialiste Révolutionnaire, and it is in this capacity that I am sending this letter. You have published your program. This is a very important document. Its publication represents a major step forward. But despite the absolutely correct general thrust of your program, the text also contains some imprecise formulations, which make you vulnerable to your enemies (and you do have some), and which can even lead to deviations within your own tendency. I greatly regret that you did not submit your draft for a preliminary discussion, not only nationally but also internationally: not only can socialism not be created in one country, but neither can revolutionary socialist politics. Comrades who would have been eager to participate in a preliminary discussion can now only give their opinions of the published text.

1. You distinguish between the “conquest of political power” and the “conquest of economic power.” This distinction is incorrect. It lends itself to dangerous equivocation. The ferociously anti-Marxist anarcho-syndicalists are the ones who invented the concept of “economic power” in order to sidestep the question of how to transform society without the conquest of state power. The reformists willingly use this same formula for their “plans,” which are supposed to allow (anonymous) “collective” control to render economic power to the (still anonymous) “collectivity.” Mr. de Man, this magician of the ambiguous formulation, this falsifier of scientific socialism, needs the distinction between political power and economic power. But it is precisely for this reason that we must reject this terminological trap. “Economic power,” as such, does not exist. There is property, different forms of property. State power provides the opportunity to retain or, on the contrary, to abolish capitalist property, depending on whether state power belongs to the bourgeoisie or to the proletariat.

I am sure that we are in fundamental agreement. But you develop your artificial distinction between two powers in a dangerous way. On Italy, you say: “It was not the occupation but the abandonment of the factories which gave rise to fascism.” You also say that the Charleroi miners, in occupying the mines, “thus show the way which will result in the expropriation of the capitalist bourgeoisie.” This is not correct. The occupation of factories and mines is in no way sufficient. If state power remains in the hands of the bourgeois class, the occupiers will inevitably be evicted and crushed.

You see that the formulation can be used equally well against you by the camouflaged, corrupted reformists like de Man and by both types of syndicalists: anarchists and collaborationists.

In the next to the last paragraph, which speaks of the dictatorship of the proletariat, you say: “By the conquest of power, we mean … the seizure of the banks, the factories, the land, …” etc. Why this new, ambiguous paraphrase? By the conquest of power is meant the conquest of power, that is, the total takeover of the state. But the conquered state must act as an instrument for the transformation of property, beginning with the expropriation of the capitalists. These are two different stages which can be separated by months and even, in the case of some types of small capitalists, by years.

Power is power; that is, the most concentrated strength of the ruling class. Its nature is political (in the most general sense of the word), because the state, the instrument of power, is the political superstructure par excellence upon the economic foundation. But this political power serves not only to regulate “political” matters, in the narrow, technical sense of the word, (that is, internal matters of the state apparatus itself), but also and above all economic, cultural, ecclesiastical and other matters.

2. You propose a “fair redistribution of the land” among the peasants. What about farm workers? You speak neither of collective farms, nor of peasant cooperatives aided by the workers’ state. In this way, you fail to advance a socialist perspective for agriculture.

3. “Down with big business!” But we aren’t for perpetuating small business. You do not speak of the state monopoly of foreign trade, which will have exceptional importance for Belgium. With the monopoly as a tool, the workers’ state could truly help the productive layers of the petty bourgeoisie and above all guide them toward socialism.

You fail to mention the abolition of business secrets and workers’ and peasants’ control of banks and industry. Yet, every worker and peasant can well understand that now — when asked only to sacrifice — they have the right to scrutinize the accounting “secrets” of the capitalist thieves. This slogan could win enormous popularity. Charlatans like de Man are always ready to come up with a whole new “plan,” but they’re careful not to mention business secrets, which are the key to exploitation.

4. You vaguely call for the “shorter workweek.” Why not the forty-hour week, an international slogan?

5. On fascism: “These gangs,” you say, “benefit from the support or the protection of the repressive forces that serve the capitalist bourgeoisie.” Why this descriptive formulation? What “repressive forces?” This refers to the police, the courts, the headquarters of Vandervelde, de Man, and Spaak. You should have named these honorable institutions.

6. You propose the creation of “shock troops” to fight fascism. Why this technical and nonpolitical expression? The rest of us Marxists speak in this respect of a workers’ militia. Why not solidarize yourselves with this precise slogan, which has become popular in France and elsewhere?

7. “The struggle against war.” This paragraph is best because it’s the most precise. But there is also an important gap. You speak against national defense. You are right. But you only give the negative formulation. You should say: We wish neither to perpetuate nor to defend the “narrow cages” known as national states. On the contrary, we wish to abolish borders in order to create a Socialist United States of Europe, while preparing a United States of the entire world.

8. At the end you say, “Down with reformist illusions.” Unfortunately, you do not explain in the text what these reformist illusions consist of or who represents them in Belgium. This is perhaps the greatest weakness in the program.

There you have, dear comrades, the remarks which I allow myself in all friendship, and which do not prevent me from recognizing that your program, despite its imperfections, is permeated with a proletarian and revolutionary spirit. This spirit is the sure sign of your victory.

P.S. — I notice with astonishment that you say nothing in your program about women (salaries, night work, maternity leaves, etc.). A truly revolutionary tendency which wants to ensure its future must never neglect questions concerning either young people or women or oppressed peoples (there is nothing on colonies in your program!).