Notes on the SAP and the London-Amsterdam Bureau

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Mid-April 1935

N: The last German conference revealed that within the IKD there still exist serious differences of opinion and lack of clarity on the tactical approach to the SAP and the London-Amsterdam Bureau. The conference’s resolution on the SAP and the guidelines for plenum members concerning their conduct with respect to the Paris conference of the London-Amsterdam Bureau are both imbued with a conciliatory spirit.

Trotsky: It is absolutely necessary to maintain a consistent line on the SAP. The SAP expresses the feelings of numerous confused elements and is representative of an entire international frame of mind. It is the chosen leader for people with all kinds of shortcomings, and all of its efforts are directed toward maintaining these shortcomings and sowing new confusion. In the process, it leans both on the sectarian Bauer and the unprincipled apostle of unity Doriot. The SAP is very skillful in disguising its confusion with our arguments. Let us not forget that the leaders of the SAP have had a thorough schooling — in the Comintern, with the Brandlerites, and they have even learned something from us. This “skillfulness” makes the SAP one of the most dangerous centrist currents we now face. Although they don’t represent much themselves, the SAP tries to intervene everywhere with its emigre groups scattered all over in different countries and to put a brake on the revolutionary movement. We have to teach the SAP, which seems to be the group closest to us, a very thorough lesson. We have to stop toadying to them and carry out a determined fight against them.

Our conduct toward the IAG must proceed from the same considerations. We do not pursue a policy of hollow fetishism on organizational questions. Theoretically, there is indeed a possibility of entering the Bureau, provided that a clear leftward tendency exists within the organization. At present, however, our concern in the fight against the Bureau is rather the SAP leadership in the Bureau, since it is primarily responsible for the rightward course. The precondition for the theoretical possibility of entering the LAG is a relentless struggle against the SAP, which at the present time represents conservatism and reaction within the workers’ movement.

In the International Youth Bureau the SAP plays the same role. The SAP has hoisted itself up on our shoulders; now we are supposed to bend so the SAP can scrape before Tranmæl and Kilbom. While Comrade Schmidt of the OSP was in prison, de Kadt and Walcher seized control of the leadership of the Youth Bureau in order to fight against our line. Now that de Kadt has flown the OSP because of his betrayal during the July struggle in Amsterdam, Walcher is trying to continue the same policy with the Swede Kilbom. The latter denied our Comrade Held residence in Stockholm in order to pass the leadership over to Brandt of the SAP.

The political intervention of our comrades at the Lille [youth] conference was inadequate. They remained mute about everything the SAP did and allowed the SAP to exercise a virtual dictatorship at this conference. We have to take energetic measures to put a stop to the SAP’s machinations.

N: Many of the SAP groups inside Germany (but, of course, far from all of them) are much further to the left than the SAP leadership abroad. They express themselves openly in favor of the Fourth International and often respond positively to our efforts to establish comradely collaboration and discussion. However, they still follow their leadership abroad, which tries to block us at every turn, as for example in the unity negotiations in X, where the SAP regional committee was advised to set senseless conditions like forbidding “recruitment of the other organization’s members,” etc. I am of the opinion that we should issue a statement about the senselessness of such demands, but that we should not allow ourselves to be taken in by such tricks and not allow the negotiations to collapse in cases where local unity negotiations have a progressive political and organizational character.

Trotsky: I won’t render an opinion on this special case in X since I am not acquainted with the details. In general, errors committed by comrades inside Germany can be viewed with forbearance. As a result of the conditions of extreme illegality, there is a lack of the necessary general picture of international affairs among the comrades working there. But on all international questions the leadership abroad must be unyielding and initiate a determined struggle against the SAP. Despite forbearance in internal German matters, the leadership abroad must maintain elbow room on all international questions. A split in the SAP is by no means out of the question. We must continually point out that it is only the SAP that sees political obstacles in the way of a fusion. Under no circumstances should we play hide-and-seek with the Fourth International, and we must act with great self-assurance in all instances.

N: There are no important differences within our ranks with respect to evaluation of the London-Amsterdam Bureau. Instead, the question is often raised as to whether we should let the Bureau disintegrate on its own, or whether we should, on the contrary, try to actively transform it in a revolutionary direction through our entry, or, if necessary, work to break it up from within.

Trotsky: If we were to enter the London-Amsterdam Bureau in the present situation, we would group everyone there against us. We would become the centrists’ only target. The struggle against us would be the only raison d'être of the London-Amsterdam Bureau. If, however, we remain outside, criticize them sharply, and leave them to their own devices, all the latent contradictions will manifest themselves, since, practically speaking, there are three tendencies in the London-Amsterdam Bureau: one favoring the Second International (Sweden), one favoring the Third (the ILP in England), and one favoring the Fourth (RSAP).

We have already gained a certain amount of experience through the participation of the Dutch, and our views have only been confirmed. Doriot himself declared that the only positive aspect of this conference [in February 1935] was the condemnation of Trotskyist ideas. Indeed, everything was aimed at condemning the Fourth International. That was the only glue holding together the groups represented there (with the exception of the Dutch).

N: The spokesmen for the conciliatory line toward the London-Amsterdam Bureau always raise the comparison with Lenin’s attitude toward Zimmerwald and Kienthal.

Trotsky: The big difference between then and now is that at the beginning of the war there did not exist any real communist group anywhere. In France, for example, those furthest to the left were Merrheim and Bourderon, and they were moderate centrists who were of the opinion that the Second International should be rebuilt after the war. Even Liebknecht changed his mind; at first he was still in the same organization with the Independents. In Sweden it was Høglund and in Norway [ ], a very moderate leftist. In those days the first channels had to be opened. Yes, if Lenin had only had groups of ten workers, or even five (he always said that three good workers were more important to him than all the centrists put together) … For this reason it was necessary to participate in those conferences then. Lenin, however, was the first one ready to break with Zimmerwald.

(This position was not, however, a hindrance to working within the Social Democratic organizations. During the war for example, Inessa Armand and others worked together with Trotsky in France and took part in [Social Democratic] meetings. Lenin himself worked in the Swiss organization. Trotsky, along with Fritz Platten, was a delegate to a Swiss party convention and was kept from speaking there by right-wingers. At the following party convention, Lenin also took part.)

Everything depends on whether or not you have some forces in the country, on whether you can develop independent international action. In any case, the point is not whether one takes part in the conference or not (we are not expelling Comrade Schmidt); instead, what is decisive is to perceive and struggle against the ruinous implications of this political line. It is having illusions and not any possible participation which is dangerous. These illusions in our own ranks correspond to illusions about the SAP leadership.

All centrist currents are now undergoing their most important test on the international questions. In Germany the SAP can hide pretty well. But on the international questions every trained Marxist can see where they are headed. To be sure, the SAP is against Hitler, but on the international questions it supports Tranmæl and Kilbom and thus is preparing the way for the Norwegian and the Swedish Hitler. They do this in an underhanded way, using radical phrases, but in the final analysis they say this: We work with Tranmæl, but not with the Trotskyists. This is the most miserable sort of treachery. They steal our arguments against Tranmæl, dull the cutting edge of these arguments a bit, and then use them to impress our people (“watered-down Trotskyism”), but in practice they work with Tranmæl against us.

A second example: de Kadt. We were the first to recognize him for what he is, and we criticized him in an extremely sharp manner. (See Unser Wort.) Shortly thereafter, de Kadt exposed himself as a scoundrel and was expelled from the Dutch party. He never represented himself as a Marxist, and is in fact a reactionary philistine. But the leaders of the SAP allied themselves with him in the struggle against us.

There is also the example of France. The rightist Frossard represents nothing in the SFIO. Nevertheless, Blum continually bows to him, while he treats Marceau Pivert, who represents broad revolutionary layers, like dirt. That is the time-honored method of the centrists. They bow to the right and treat the left like a doormat. That is decisive, and not the theoretical formulations the centrists use. The SAP adorns itself with purloined revolutionary phrases, but marches with Tranmæl, Kilbom, and Zyromsky against the revolutionary wing. This discrepancy between word and deed must be exposed now. Therein lies the essence of centrism. Of course, the words of the centrists are inadequate too. But we will accomplish little with complicated theoretical debates in front of an unschooled audience (even when such debates are necessary).

In France we face tasks of historic proportions. What is decisive for a correct political line is an accurate analysis of the political situation. (See the French pamphlet Whither France?) What exists in France today is a situation similar to the one in Germany in 1923 and then later in the years 1929-33. Here again we find ourselves in a prerevolutionary situation which must lead to revolution or counterrevolution. What characterizes all centrists is that they are afraid to see and understand this. The centrist is afraid to act. That is why he hedges in his analysis of the situation. The SAP people give this fear theoretical expression. We must take this as our point of departure.

In 1923 Brandler and Walcher missed the revolutionary situation. Later they failed to understand this. From this — the greatest experience of their lives — they learned nothing. Since they were obliged to defend themselves for quite some time, they collected all the arguments for turning a revolutionary situation into a non-revolutionary situation. It is necessary to fight out the battle in the light of the 1923 experience. Because now the SAP is beginning to exercise its restraining influence on all revolutionary elements; in France on Marceau Pivert. This is dangerous. By leading the battle against us along with Zyromsky, Pivert, and Doriot, they are repeating their bad experience of 1923.

We characterize the present situation in France as prerevolutionary and that determines our attitude toward Blum, etc. On the other hand, we have repeatedly explained to Walcher that he is repeating the political orientation of the Anglo-Russian Committee.

Marceau Pivert says to himself: “The political situation seems to demand a decisive revolutionary approach.” Blum, however, does not want a revolutionary approach, and fundamentally neither does Zyromsky, since he doesn’t want to break with Blum. We say to Marceau Pivert: “The political situation is more important than Blum’s frame of mind. One must take the political situation as the basic point of departure and determine one’s attitude toward Blum and Zyromsky on this basis.” Then Walcher jumps in and says: “Yes, the Trotskyists have a very good analysis of the political situation, but they are sectarians, and they want to isolate you, Marceau Pivert, and condemn you to impotence. They demand that you break with Zyromsky.” In this way they reinforce the centrist side of Marceau Pivert against the Marxist side.

The SAP will hardly venture to take up the discussion of the character of the political situation with us. They would much rather concentrate on their specialty: struggling against our “sectarianism.” Their attitude toward the centrist leaders (Zyromsky and Blum, etc.) is derived from a totally different evaluation of the political situation in France, one which is dictated by their fear of revolutionary action. They accept our analysis in words, but “… we shouldn’t be sectarian and under no circumstances should we break with Zyromsky.” That means that they should not draw the practical conclusions of their own analysis of the situation.

Just as the SAP in practice supported Tranmæl and de Kadt against us in the past, now they are supporting Zyromsky against us, but on a much more important question, in a situation of far-reaching significance, not just for the French proletariat, but for the entire European working class.