Minutes of the ICL Plenum

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November 18-19, 1933

Present: G. [Trotsky], Sneevliet, Vereecken, Souzo [Leonetti], Schwarz [Leon Sedov], Bauer, Fischer [Schüssler], at the third and last session, Frank.

Presiding: G. Secretary: Steen [Klement].

Agenda: Holland

Conference of Four SAP

International Communist League Belgium

Activity of the IS

First Session

1. Holland: Report by Comrade Sneevliet on the state of negotiations for the fusion of the RSP of Holland with the OSP:

After the Paris conference the RSP took the initiative for unification. A united front between the two parties, the NAS,etc., was made, and a series of joint conferences was held between the leaders of both parties to discuss the differences and the possibilities of unification. The RSP declared that it recognizes — and not just beginning with today — the necessity for working in the unions. It was decided that both parties would call a congress during Christmas 1933, the agenda of which would be preparations for unification. Later the OSP proposed a more accelerated tempo: the Christmas congress should already bring about a fusion. In short: an ideological discussion is nothing but a waste of time, their members would accept the program without difficulties just as they had accepted without difficulties the Declaration of Four. It is necessary only to come to an agreement on technical and organizational questions of unification. In this sense they propose the 14 points, which do not constitute a fusion but the annexation of the RSP to the OSP. The RSP declared that it is against all changes proposed and holds that a broad discussion among the membership and in the press is necessary. Only after that could the 14 points be discussed. To the sessions held in common by the representatives of the two organizations representatives of the SAP and the ICL should be invited. This almost led to a break. The OSP complained vociferously against the methods of the International Communist League, the RSP refused to adopt the international practices of the Second International. The OSP gave in. At the following session Held (ICL) took part. A program commission was formed to which both parties submitted drafts for a party platform. At first the OSP was against the mention of soviets in the program, then it gave in. Agreement was reached on a document which would serve as a basis for open discussion (see De Baanbreker, number 29). Then the trade union theses of the RSP were adopted. A technical commission would analyze the 14 points of the OSP and the counter propositions of the RSP, which demanded equal rights. The RSP expounded before the joint leaderships the international policy of the OSP, and its connections with the London Bureau and with the Bloc of Four. The OSP declared that the London Bureau will certainly be dissolved by December. A separation before the fusion does not enter into the question. They will remain there in order to be able to influence the development of the ILP. The OSP speaker completely liquidated the question of the NAP. For unification the following regulations are adopted: the name of the party — RSAP; name of the paper — De Rode Vaan; the Central Committee consists of nine representatives of the OSP and six representatives of the RSP. President — Schmidt; secretary — de Kadt. Treasurer — OSP. Permanent functionaries: president, secretary, and the parliamentary representative. A financial committee must determine the financial status of both parties. The unification congress: February 17-18, 1934. Comrades Sneevliet and de Kadt must find an appropriate formula to guarantee the conditions of unification. The OSP states that the prestige of the united front will diminish if the unification does not take place as soon as possible. Sneevliet remarked that unification without a broad discussion in the working class would be artificial and would produce splits soon after the fusion, and that the OSP as a whole took an overbearing attitude and lots of energy is lost in the struggle with it. What changes the OSP is capable of are shown in the introduction to the trade union theses in De Fakkel, in the article on the Reichstag fire, or by the defense of people who declare that the Russian Left Opposition should have made a coup d'état in 1923 and that would have saved us the further developments. The OSP wants the Fourth International without the ultimatism of Trotsky. A rapid fusion would also mean a break with the ICL. We must avoid it. In the interest of the developments in Holland as well as that of the Bloc of Four and the new International it is necessary to gain time and slow down the rhythm of unification.

Trotsky: For the OSP the differences are not of a political nature. With their quitting the Social Democratic party it seems to them that everything has already been done. They have signed the Declaration of Four. But this in itself is insufficient; it is only a general demarcation from the spirit of adventurism and opportunism. Their break with the Social Democracy completely appeases their conscience. They are not yet awakened to revolutionary Marxian thought. But this will inevitably come. In De Werker, Saltaz speaks with irony of “learned” Marxism. De Kadt “does not like” to talk theory. They are ready to accept all platforms. We could accept a formal break with our Dutch section if by its fusion with the OSP the latter would not at the same time become an ally of Tranmæl, Paul Louis, etc. We are, so to say, already compromised by the fact that two of our allies belong at the same time to the Bloc of Seven, so that talk of a Two-and-One-Half [International] is thus partly justified. The OSP speaks of our ultimatism and forgets that it learned this word from us without understanding it. To pose ultimatums to the working class is a crime, but to present an ultimatum to our enemies, or to the allies of our enemies, is possible and necessary. We must present the OSP with an ultimatum: choose either the NAP or us. They must choose us, since Tranmæl has need of them, but they have need of us. In an abridged form we are reliving the experience of the Anglo-Russian Committee. No fusion on this ambiguous basis. It is the same with the SAP. De Baanbreker must publish the theses of our German comrades on the NAP. It comes down to this — once the internal struggle among the centrists breaks out, all the insufficiencies of empiricism will be demonstrated. They will reply with demagogy. That is why we must not give them any pretext such as, for example, if we exercised any privileges, or two-year guarantees, etc. And why, after all, a president? The Social Democracy has two of them, the Bolsheviks had none. The Central Committee is responsible to the party. Against a president, for democracy! The Declaration of Four signed by the OSP is sufficient basis for opening up a discussion.

Leonetti: As to Holland we must differentiate. The OSP hurries because it is pushed by its rank and file. To hold back without explaining the reasons is to arm the OSP. We must propose a common newspaper column in both papers, to meet the eventuality of the RSP’s withdrawal from the ICL.

Sneevliet: The OSP has already declared that the adherence of the RSP to the ICL is a brake on the development toward a Fourth International.

Leonetti: But the most important thing is not the withdrawal but a discussion and first of all on a national scale.

Sneevliet: After the fusion the adherence of the RSP to the ICL will no longer be possible since there will be no RSP. We must hold on for a certain time yet to a united front. The present united front is not a normal united front. In internal policy there is no possibility of slowing up the rhythm. For example the representative of the OSP does not write at all for the theoretical organ. They have brought three new subscriptions. Schmidt has absolutely nothing to say and already disillusions the workers. The OSP is already forced to make an appeal to the personal loyalty of the young members for the leadership. The parliamentary work of Sneevliet does not give him the possibility of influencing in a decisive manner the new party as a whole. That is why the young people of the OSP, not at all educated, must be educated in the discussion. The leadership of the OSP is against a discussion. They do not want by a radical phrase in their program to lose their precious members. Sneevliet is in agreement against the [institution of] president.

Trotsky: The OSP itself has not broached the problems of our epoch; that is why the German and Belgian comrades must write for the Dutch papers articles on the boycott, theory and revolution, the NAP, the theses submitted, the Declaration of Four. At the Bloc of Four’s conference we must drag the SAP and the OSP “by the hair.”

Decided: Bauer will write for De Baanbreker an article on the NAP by Monday. Sneevliet will write for the International Bulletin in a week. Leonetti will write for De Fakkel, etc., an article on Saltaz. All the articles must be short.

Vereecken: Expresses doubt once again about the RSP withdrawing eventually from the ICL [after merging with the OSP]. After the unification won’t the RSP become a fraction [in the merged Dutch party]?

Trotsky: Since we propose to our English section that they enter the ILP it is clear that by this they will break the connection with us. We have everything to gain, and in the face of all this the withdrawal is a secondary question. The unified party will be more of a federation than a party. A fraction always forms wherever a revolutionary minority distrusts the opportunists and the centrists of the majority. Afterwards, naturally, it is necessary to bring about a healthy fusion and not give the right of fraction. (Comrade Trotsky explains the action plan and a draft agenda for the conference of the Bloc of Four.)

Second Session

2. SAP: Report by Comrade Bauer on the relations between the Internationalist Communists of Germany (IKD) and the SAP: As the comrades of the SAP refuse a unification platform, look for pretexts, and make the solution of various questions a preliminary condition for unification, it is now a question of just maintaining relatively good relations. The discussion turns around two questions: (1) the NAP and (2) a joint theoretical journal. The SAP is afraid of being swallowed up by us since it does not possess the positions that we have: no journal, no firm international relations; they also seem to be a little less rich in numbers. After a discussion with the SAP our German group in Paris prepared a document on the NAP. The SAP made a rejoinder to it. Circumspection would prompt them to withdraw their theory of the reactionary epoch but they remain on their former positions theoretically and practically. The SAP also says that the London Bureau will die but they do not quit it and even press us to enter it. The Declaration of Four is for them history, not a reality. The too great influence of Trotsky [they say] hampers the IKD. Among other things they revive our old disagreements with them on the [1932] presidential elections. Their practical proposal: maintain the status quo and discussions. Unification will be possible only after the problems are exhausted to the very end. This already lasts three months. Either we unite on a platform, or the SAP has to be treated as any other organization. The right-wingers in the SAP do not want any organized party but a large organization of the masses. They have relations with Souvarine, also with Seydewitz, Fuchs and other Social Democrats in Switzerland who group around the pamphlet Neu Beginnen. Their head seems to be Thomas. Thomas at one time passed as the “Trotskyist” in the SAP and was for unification with the Left Opposition, the first against Walcher. … The SAP always reflected the great events, today the defeat leads to a liquidationist tendency of its right-wingers. We must be most cautious. We cannot afford to lose our Dutch comrades or the ICL will have to be strengthened.

(Trotsky reads for information a letter from Comrade Ost, an ardent proponent of unification, [who,] … calling attention to the SAP’s social patriotic position (Munich: defense of democratic imperialism against fascist imperialism), favors a more protracted development, with first a discussion of definite theses on the war question.)

Schüssler: According to the SAP, we are sectarians and have no contact with the masses: they could never become a mass party except by disregarding our advice. No one knows what would have become of the SAP if Hitler had not finished it energetically. We will get nowhere with them except through negotiations and discussions. They hide behind each other, and the emigres behind the Berlin members.

Trotsky: Behind the hesitations of the SAP there is not a little of Machiavellianism. They would like to destroy us as they did with Seydewitz. The SAP has not yet completed its development. It is only raw material from which we have to make the finished product. The SAP was supposed to have 50,000 members; today Walcher does not speak of more than 20,000, but as an actual figure they give 14,000, that is, one-fourth. Their slogans they take from Brandler and from Trotsky. What did they do or achieve? Walcher imagines he has done everything himself with his organizational ability. To the official historiography of the SAP we must counterpose real historiography. The SAP demands a discussion. We were the first to propose it to the SAP and they refused it under the pretext that there were no disagreements. On this basis we proposed a merger. All of a sudden differences are discovered but on secondary matters: our attitude during the Paris conference and the question of a common journal. Now the demand for discussion acts as a brake. We do not impose any arguments upon the SAP. That is why our international press and particularly Unser Wort must again take up this question. And it is better now to strike at the SAP than at the OSP; a few indirect blows will fall on the latter because we have less to gain and less to lose in the case of the SAP than of the OSP and, what is more, in the SAP we have to deal with more stubborn material.

Sneevliet: The Declaration of Four is ever more a brake on the development of the ICL. The SAP and the OSP did not consider the declaration as a political maneuver; for them it had more of the character of a horse deal: you, Walcher, will sign the Declaration of Seven and I, Schmidt, will on the other hand sign the Declaration of Four. A declaration more concrete would possibly have been of more value. In the SAP and the OSP, especially in the former, is a Two-and-One-Half International tendency. Side by side with discussion it is necessary to develop an entirely new activity, transform the papers into workers’ papers, not give too heavy articles, participate more in the life of the proletariat, utilize better such cases as that of Reese. Good examples: La Voix Communiste, I'Étincelle du Nord, The Militant; a bad example is La Vérité.

Leonetti: We must not become victims of our allies. At one time we regarded the Declaration of Four as a step forward and our allies as progressive forces. Now we bend backwards, regarding the Declaration of Four as a “brake” or “an episode.” It depends on our work whether we extract from it advantages or not. The Declaration of Four is the best weapon —

Sneevliet: In free hands.

Leonetti: It does not tie our hands. The Fourth International will develop along the road of the Declaration of Four. If the fusion does not realize itself (ICL, SAP, RSP, OSP) we will create fractions in these organizations. Let them call it the methods of the Comintern, if they wish — not all of them were false. A theoretical question now concerns the workers most directly: the creation of a Fourth International. We still have not got a theoretical organ, therefore this aspect of our papers.

Schüssler: We have, before the SAP and the OSP, our own international organization. We have to prove that they are not just a combination of national sects. We must therefore concentrate on the international conference. It will be an important step toward the Fourth International. What is more, all our adversaries are nationally limited opportunists.

Vereecken: The tempo should be slowed up. The preliminary condition for fusion must be the adherence of the new organization to the ICL. If for instance we had fused with Hennaut, he would have become without any ado a member of the ICL.

Trotsky: The Fourth International — will it develop along the line of the Bloc of Four or of the International Communist League? Those who have principles will come to us since we are the only detachment that has a clear understanding of the situation and perspectives. If we had had a section in Holland the RSP would not have found its road to us so quickly: the fractions could not end with the entrance to the new road. The numerous groups in Austria, for example, have compromised us before the Social Democrats and blocked their road to us. The Bloc of Four is an episode of magnitude but we are a permanent organization. The Bloc of Four would become a brake if we made concessions. It represents a purgatory through the door of which some organizations will pass. In the beginning we have gathered many worthless elements and could reject them only with some harm to ourselves: personal anarchists if not political. This purgatory could not but be of good. It is our task to make a finished product out of the raw material. What we are going through today with the SAP and OSP will repeat itself tomorrow with the ILP and Kilbom. We influence the OSP more easily than the SAP because this is an organization of workers and its apparatus, despite de Kadt and Schmidt, does not have the same weight as that of the SAP. That is why it is necessary to strike the SAP first — an international conference is necessary. The conference of the Bloc of Four represents an important step in this sense.

Leonetti: Criticism of our papers is correct. We must create an international theoretical organ which will aid the papers. But the workers’ page in La Vérité is excellent. The youth make progress. R.M. [Raymond Molinier] went to Lille. They are already beginning to make the turn toward the masses.

3. Belgium: Report by Comrade Vereecken on the situation in the Belgian section, negotiations with Hennaut, and relations with the group at Anvers:

Comrades Leonetti and Trotsky participate in the discussion.