The Question of the United Front
|Written||26 February 1922|
Trotsky’s speech was delivered at the height of the discussion in the Communist International on the question of the united front. In the communist party of France, the greatest opposition to the united front came from the right wing, among whose most prominent spokesmen was the then party secretary, L.-O. Frossard and Victor Meric. As may be seen from Trotsky’s polemical reply, the question of the united front sixteen years ago was bound up with the question of an early version of the People’s Front, i.e., the bloc des Gauches, or “left bloc” with the Radicals and the social democrats, if not in the conception of the Comintern leaders, then at least in that of the right wing. Also involved was the relation between the Soviet republic and its foreign policy, on the one side, and proletarian policy in the capitalist countries, on the other. The manner in which this relationship was fixed at that time is in sharp contrast with the Stalintern manner of today. The reader will not fail to notice the topical, as well as historical, significance of the polemic. – ED.
COMRADES, I was not present at the session yesterday, but I have read attentively the two speeches which are opposed in principle to the tactic defined by the Executive: the speeches of our comrades Terracini and Daniel Renoult.
Now, I am in full agreement with comrade Radek when he says that the speech of comrade Terracini is nothing but a new and, I must confess, not quite improved edition of the objections which he once made to certain theses of the Third Congress.
But the situation has changed since then.
During the Third Congress there was the danger that the Italian communist party or other parties would engage in actions that might become very dangerous. Now, on the contrary, the negative danger threatens that the Italian party will abstain from actions which can and must be profitable for the labor movement.
It may of course be said that this negative danger is not so great as the positive danger. But time is an important factor in politics and if we let it slip by it is always utilized against us by others.
Comrade Terracini said: We are naturally for mass action and for the conquest of the masses. He repeats this time and again in his speeches. On the other hand, however, he says: Although we are for the common struggle of the proletariat, we are against the united front as proposed by the Executive.
Comrades, when the representative of a proletarian party continually asserts: We are for the conquest of the majority of the proletariat, we are for the slogan, “To the masses!” – this sounds like a somewhat belated echo of the discussions at the Third Congress. At that time we all believed that we were already in the full swing of the revolution; the feelings and moods of the proletariat, born of the war, the rather vague sentiments in favor of the revolution – of the Russian revolution as well as of the revolution in general – were regarded as sufficient for the revolution itself. But the events showed that this appraisal was wrong. During the Third Congress, we discussed this and we said: No, a new stage is now beginning; the bourgeoisie does not stand quite firmly on its feet for the moment, but still firmly enough to oblige us communists first to win the confidence of the broadest masses of workers in order to crush the bourgeoisie.
Comrade Terracini continues to repeat: We are for action to conquer the masses. Certainly, but we have already entered a more advanced stage, we are now discussing the methods of winning the masses in action. From this standpoint – how to conquer the masses – the parties are divided quite naturally and logically into three large groups:
First, there are the parties which are but at the beginning of their successes and which are not yet in a position “to play a big role in the immediate action of the masses. Naturally, these parties have a great future, like all the other communist parties, but right now they cannot count very much upon the action of the proletarian masses for they are numerically weak as organizations. Hence, these parties must fight for the time being for the conquest of a basis, of the possibility of influencing the proletariat in its action (our English party is now emerging from this situation with ever-increased success).
On the other side there are parties which completely dominate the proletariat. I believe comrade Kolarov is right in claiming that this is the case with Bulgaria. What does this mean? It means that Bulgaria is ripe for the proletarian revolution and that only international conditions stand in its way. It is clear that in such a situation the question of the united front scarcely exists. In Belgium and England, on the other hand, it signifies the struggle for the possibility of influencing the proletariat and of cooperating in its movement.
Between these two extremes, there are parties which represent a power, not only in ideas but also through their numerical and organizational strength. This is already the case with most of the communist parties. Their strength may come to a third of the organized vanguard, a fourth, even a half or a bit more – that does not alter the situation in general.
What task confronts these parties? To conquer the overwhelming majority of the proletariat. And to what end? To lead the proletariat to the conquest of power, to the revolution. When will this moment be reached? We do not know. Perhaps in six months, perhaps in six years. Maybe the interval will differ for the various countries between these two figures. But speaking theoretically, it is not excluded that this preparatory period will last even longer. In that case, I ask: What will we do during this period? Continue to fight for the conquest of the majority, for the confidence of the entire proletariat. But this will not be attained by today or tomorrow; for the moment we are the party of the vanguard of the proletariat. And now still another question: Should the class struggle stop meanwhile, until we have conquered the entire proletariat? I put this question to comrade Terracini and also to comrade Renoult: Should the struggle of the proletariat for its daily bread stop until the moment when the communist party, supported by the entire working class, is in a position to seize the power? No, this struggle does not stop, it continues. The workers who belong to our party and those who do not join it, like the members of the social-democratic party and others, all of them – depending on the stage and the character of the working class in question – are disposed and able to fight for their immediate interests; and the struggle for their immediate interests is always, in our epoch of great imperialist crisis, the beginning of a revolutionary struggle. (This is very important but I mention it here only parenthetically.)
Now then, the workers who do not join our party and who do not understand it (that is precisely the reason why they do not enter it), want to have the possibility to fight for the piece of daily bread, for the bit of meat, etc. They see before them the communist party, the socialist party, and they do not understand the reason why they have parted company. They belong to the reformist General Confederation of Labor [CGT], to the socialist party of Italy, etc., or else they do not belong to any party organization. Now, what do these workers think? They say: Let these organizations or sects – I don’t know how these not very conscious workers call them in their language – give us the possibility of conducting the fight for our daily needs. We cannot answer them: But we have separated in order to prepare your great future, your great day-after-tomorrow! They will not understand this, because they are completely absorbed by their “today”. If they were able to grasp this, to them, entirely theoretical argument, they would have joined our party. With such a mental outlook and confronted with the fact of different trade union and political organizations, they have no means of orienting themselves; they find it impossible to undertake any immediate action, no matter how small or partial. Along comes the communist party and tells them: Friends, we are divided. You think it’s a mistake; I want to explain the reasons. You don’t understand them? I regret it greatly, but we are already in existence, we communists, socialists, reformists and revolutionary syndicalists; we have our independent organizations for reasons which are entirely sufficient for us communists. Nevertheless we communists propose an immediate action in your struggle for bread and meat, we propose it to you and to your leaders, to every organization that represents a part of the proletariat!
This is entirely in the spirit of mass psychology, the psychology of the proletariat and I contend that the comrades who protest against it with so much passion (which is easily explained by the importance and gravity of the question), reflect far more the painful process of their still fresh separation from the reformists and opportunists than the mood of the broad proletarian masses. I understand very well that for a journalist who was for a long time in the same editorial board of, let us say, l’Humanité, together with Longuet, and separated from him after great difficulties – the prospect of turning to Longuet again after all this, to propose negotiations to him, is a psychological and moral torment. But the working class, the masses, the millions of French workers, do not give a tinker’s dam about these things (one can say “unfortunately!”), because they do not belong to the party. But when you say to them: We communists are now taking the initiative in mass action for your piece of bread – whom will the workers condemn and pillory for this? The Communist International, the French communist party? No, never.
In order to show you, comrades, that the hesitations gaining ground in France, especially in France, do not reflect the moods of the proletarian masses, but rather a belated echo of the painful process of separation from the old party, I will quote you from a few articles. I beg your forgiveness: the French comrades make merry a bit over our infatuation for quotations; one of them has made some very sprightly remarks about the vastness of our “documentation”, but there is nothing else for us to do. Naturally, quotations are the dessicated flowers of the labor movement, but if you know a bit of botany and if you have also seen the flowers in the sunny fields, then even these dessicated samples will give you an idea of the reality.
I will quote you from a comrade well known in France: comrade Victor Meric. He now represents more or less the opposition to the united front in a manner comprehensible by all; he vulgarizes his opposition in his ironical manner. Listen to what he says. This is supposed to be a joke – a bad one, to me, but in any case, a joke:
“Why not make a united front with Briand? After all, Briand is only a Dissident, a Dissident of the first draft, a pioneer Dissident; but just the same he belongs to the great family.” (Journal du Peuple, Jan. 13, 1922.)
What is the meaning of this? At the moment when the Executive says to the French comrades: You, the French party, represent only a part of the working class, it is necessary to find the ways and means for a common action of the masses – the voice from Paris replies:
“Why not make a united front with Briand?”
One can say, that is irony and it appears in a paper created especially for irony of this sort, the Journal du Peuple. But I have here a quotation from the same author in the Internationale – and that is incomparably more important – where he says literally:
“And permit me to put one single question – oh! without the slightest irony ... [notice this, comrades, these are the words of Victor Meric himself: “without the slightest irony”] ...”
INTERRUPTIONS: For once! ... It doesn’t often happen.
TROTSKY: “And permit me to put one single question – oh! without the slightest irony! If this thesis is accepted in France and if, tomorrow, the Poincaré-la-Guerre ministry, upset, gives way to a Briand or Viviani cabinet, determined partisan of peace, of disarmament, of an accord among the peoples and the recognition of the Soviets, won’t our deputies in parliament have to consolidate, by their votes, the position of this bourgeois government? And even if – anything can happen! – a portfolio were offered to one of our people, should he refuse it?” (Internationale, Jan. 22, 1922.)
This appears – oh! without the slightest irony! – not in the Journal du Peuple, but in the Internationale, the organ of our party. Thus, for Victor Meric it is not a question of unifying the action of the proletariat, but of his relations to this or that Dissident, to the Dissidents of yesterday or of the day before. As you can see, his argument is taken from the realm of international policy: In case a Briand government were inclined to recognize the Soviets, would the Moscow International impose upon us a collaboration with this government?
Comrade Terracini did not say quite the same thing as comrade Meric, but he too conjured up the specter of an alliance among three powers: Powers No.3, 2 and 2½ – Germany, Austria and Germany. Comrade Zinoviev said in the plenary session, and I in the commission, that there are comrades who seek in our views or in our “deviations”, reasons of state. They say that it is not our mistakes as communists, but rather our interests as Russian statesmen that drive us to the tactic of the united front. And that is precisely the veiled accusation of Victor Meric.
Now, remember that as far back as the Third Congress it was pointed out that the right wing, and particularly the lackeys of the right wing, interpreted the March events in Germany as the product of suggestions from Moscow for saving the muddled situation of the Soviets. When, at the Third Congress, certain methods employed during the March Action were condemned, it was the extreme left, the Communist Labor Party of Germany, who declared that the Soviet government is against the revolutionary movement and wants to postpone the world revolution for a time in order to be able to do business with the bourgeoisie of the West.
Now the same things are being wanned up again in connection with the united front.
Comrades, the interests of the Soviet republic cannot be other than the interests of the international revolutionary movement. If this tactic is injurious to you, comrades of France, or to you, comrades of Italy, then it is completely injurious also to us. And if you believe that we are absorbed and hypnotized by our position as statesmen to such an extent that we are no longer able to judge and grasp correctly the interests of the labor movement – then it would be proper to introduce into the statutes of our International a paragraph which says that the party that has arrived at the lamentable position of the conquest of power must be expelled from the International. (Laughter)
Instead of such accusations – note that they are not formal accusations, but insinuations which go hand in hand with the more or less official and ritualistic eulogies of the Russian revolution – I would rather that we were criticized a little more. If, for example, we were to receive from the Central Committee of the French party a letter saying: “You are now following the New Economic Policy; take care that you don’t break your neck, for you have gone too far in your relations with the capitalists”; or if the French delegation were to say: “We have seen your military review; you are copying the old militarism too closely and it may have a bad effect upon the young workers”; or if you were to say: “Your diplomacy is much too diplomatic; it gives out interviews, it writes notes which may hurt us in France” – in brief, if you were to criticize us openly, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, such forthright relations would be far more desirable to us than the detestable manner which goes in for hints. But all this is in passing.
After the argument from international policy, Victor Meric has an argument of a sentimental character:
“Just the same, this coming January 15, when we commemorate the two martyrs, it will do no good to come to speak to us about a united front with the friends of the Scheidemanns, the Noskes, the Eberts and other assassins of socialists and workers.” (Internationale, Jan. 8, 1922.)
Naturally, this is an argument that cannot fail to influence very simple workers who have a revolutionary feeling but not sufficient political education. Comrade Zinoviev referred to it in his speech. And comrade Thalheimer said: Comrades, if there are sentimental reasons for not sitting down at the same table with the people of the Second and the Two-and-a-Half Internationals, these reasons are valid primarily for us Germans. But how can a French communist make a statement which amounts to saying that the German communists are devoid of this revolutionary feeling, of hatred against the traitors and assassins of the Second International?
I think that their hatred is not less than that of the literati and journalists who were removed from the events. If our German comrades nevertheless carry out the tactic of the united front, the reason is that they see it as a political action and not at all as a moral reconciliation with the social democratic leaders.
The third argument is more or less decisive. We find it in an article by the same author:
“The Seine Federation has just adopted a decision on important questions: it rejects the united front by a strong majority. This simply signifies that although a year has passed, it has no intention of reversing itself. This means that after having consented to perform the painful operation, which the Tours split was, it refuses to rake up everything all over again, to appeal to those people from whom we separated.” (Internationale, Jan. 22, 1922.)
That is how the united front is presented. It is the return to the situation before Tours. And Fabre, the hospitable Fabre, declares that he is entirely in agreement with the tactic of the united front, but with one observation – and for myself I have no observation to make:
“Why should socialist and labor unity have been destroyed, with pistol in hand?”
Thus it is all clear. By putting the question in this way, acceptance of the united front means the return to the situation before Tours, it is collaboration, truce, the holy alliance with the Dissidents, the reformists. After having put the question this way, there follows the discussion on the tactic to adopt: to accept or to reject. Meric says: I reject, together with the Seine Federation. Fabre says: No, I accept, I accept.
Comrades, even in Frossard, who is certainly a politician of great value, whom we all know and who does not deal only with the funny side of a question – even in him we do not find weightier arguments. No, it is still the idea of a reconciliation with the Dissidents and not the question of the united front. Now I ask: does this question exist in France or not?
The French communist party has 130,000 members; the party of the Dissidents has a very weak membership and I draw your attention to the fact that the French comrades have named the reformists the “Dissidents”. Why? So as to denounce them before the proletariat as disrupters of the united front, as Dissidents, that is, as social-traitors. Similarly, the revolutionary CGT calls itself “Unitary” in order to demonstrate that one of its aims, its main aim, is to assure the unity of action of the proletariat.
I might also say that your methods and your actions are better than the arguments you have employed against the tactic formulated by the Executive Committee of the Communist International. I repeat: the party has 130,000 members and the Dissidents, let us say, 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000. No matter ...
INTERRUPTIONS: 15,000! Yes, the figures of the Dissidents are not always exact! It’s very hard to learn what they are.
TROTSKY: They are a minority, but not an entirely negligible minority.
Then there are the trade unions. A few years ago they had two million members; at least so they declared – the statistics of the French trade union movement are more spirited than its revolutionary enthusiasm – and now – I take my figures from the speech of comrade Renoult – there are 300,000 members in the Unitary CGT. Before the split the trade unions had 500,000 members all told.
Now, the proletarian class in France numbers millions.
The party has 130,000 members.
The revolutionary trade unions have 300,000.
The reformist trade unions have perhaps a little more or a little less than 200,000.
The Dissidents have 15,000 (30,000 or 40,000).
That is the situation.
* * * *[edit source]
TO BE SURE, the party is in a very favorable situation; it is the most influential political organization. But it is not the dominant one! What is this party at the present moment? The French party is the result, the crystallization of that great revolutionary wave of the proletariat which rose out of the war, thanks to the courageous action of the comrades who stood at the head of the movement at the time. They used this upswing of the masses, their vague but revolutionary, primitively revolutionary sentiment, to transform the old party into a communist party.
The revolution, however, did not come. The masses had the feeling that it would come today or tomorrow; now it sees that it is not breaking out. As a consequence, there is a certain ebb and only the elite of the proletariat remains in the party. But the great mass experience, so to speak, a psychological reflux. It expresses itself in the fact that the workers leave the trade unions. The trade unions are losing in membership. Formerly they counted in the millions, and now they are no longer members. Men and women join for a few weeks, a few months, and then they leave. What does this mean? The great mass of the proletariat naturally remains true to the ideal of the revolution, but this ideal has acquired a vaguer and less realizable character, has become remote. The communist party remains, with its doctrine and its tactics. There exists a small dissident group which, during this tumultuous period of revolution, has lost all its influence and its authority. But let us suppose that this transitory situation lasts another year, two years, three years, let us suppose this – we do not wish it, but we make the supposition in order to picture the situation – how will the working class of France act if, under such circumstances, there would be a general action in the country? How will it group itself? The numerical relation between the communist party and the party of the dissidents is 4 to 1, and among the working masses the relationship of vague revolutionary sentiments to conscious revolutionary sentiments is perhaps 99 to 1.
This situation lingers on without becoming stabilized and, meanwhile, the time for the new elections is drawing close. What will the French worker think? He says to himself: Yes, the communist party is perhaps a good party, the communists are good revolutionists; but right now there is no revolution, the question is the elections; the problem today is Poincaré, is the last great effort of revenge-nationalism, just like the last blaze of a dying lamp.
After that, what is left for the bourgeoisie? The Left Bloc. But for the success of this political combination, a prop, an instrument is needed inside the ranks of the working class. This instrument is the party of the dissidents. Is it acceptable? At one time we acquired magnificent propaganda successes with l’Humanité, which has 200,000 readers, with our schools, etc.
But there are other means and we seek to set the broad masses into motion by organizing meetings, by the excellent speeches of our French friends who, as you know, are not lacking in eloquence. Well, the elections come along. And a great mass of workers will probably reason thus: Yes, a parliament of the Left Bloc is at all events preferable to a parliament of Poincaré, of the National Bloc. And that will be the moment for the dissidents to play a political role. It is true that they are not numerically strong as a political organization. They have newspapers which are not, to be sure, widely read, because the most indifferent, the most disillusioned mass of the proletariat reads nothing; it has lost its illusions, it waits for events to occur, and it has a fine flair for coming events without reading. Only the thoroughly revolutionary workers have the urge for the printed word. Under such conditions, the organization of the dissidents, this small instrument of the bourgeoisie, can acquire weighty political importance. It becomes our problem, then, to discredit in advance the idea of the Left Bloc before the French proletariat. That is a very important question for the French party. I do not say that this Left Bloc would be a misfortune for us. It would be a gain also for us, provided that the proletariat does not participate in it. Let the others collaborate in the Bloc, but not the French workers; the others will only discredit themselves thereby in advance. The big and petty bourgeoisie, the financial and industrial bourgeoisie, the bourgeois intelligentsia – let them all stake their bets on the Left Bloc as they please; we, however, will endeavor to profit by it, and to unite all the workers, at whatever cost, into the united front against the bourgeoisie, bridging all the splits and groupings in the working class.
We do not want, right now, to formulate exactly the methods of our procedure, to ask whether it will be an open or a closed letter to the executive committee of the dissidents – in case there is one. The main thing is to discredit in advance the left bourgeoisie in the eyes of the broad working masses, to compel it to take a position. This bourgeois reserve army still holds back, it does not want to expose itself, it awaits the coming events in the shelter of its editorial chambers and its parliamentary clubs, it aims to let these great and small events occur without being implicated in them and discredited by them. Then, when the elections come, these left groupings emerge from their reserve, appear before the masses, and say: Yes, yes, the communists ... but we offer you this, that and the other advantage. We communists have the greatest interest in drawing these gentlemen out of their shelters, out of their chambers, and to place them before the proletariat, particularly on the basis of mass action. That is how things stand, that is how the question is presented to us. It is not at all a question of a rapprochement with Longuet. And really, comrades, that would be a bit thick, wouldn’t it?
Fifteen or sixteen months ago, we sought to impress the French comrades with the necessity of expelling even Longuet. And now come the comrades who were not quite firm at that time with regard to the 21 conditions, and tell us: You are imposing a rapprochement with Longuet upon us! I understand quite well that a worker of the Seine Federation, after having read the articles of Victor Meric, would get such an insane idea. His mistake must be explained to him in all tranquillity; he must be shown that this is not the question, that it is above all a question of not letting M. Longuet and consorts prepare a new betrayal in the quietness of their shelters, that they must be grabbed by the collar and compelled by force to stand before the proletariat and to answer the precise questions we put to them.
We have different methods of action, comrade Terracini tells us; we are for the revolution and they are against it. That is entirely correct, I am fully in agreement with Terracini. But if this were not the case, then the question of the united front would encounter no difficulties whatsoever. Naturally we are for the revolution and they are against it, but the proletariat has not understood this difference and we must make it clear to the workers.
Comrade Terracini replies:
“But we are already doing it, we have communist cells in the unions. The unions have a very great importance. We are reaching our goal by means of propaganda.”
Propaganda will not be prohibited by this conference; it is always an excellent thing, the foundation of everything. But the question is of combining and adapting it to the new conditions and the organizational role of the party.
Here is a small, very interesting excerpt from the speech of comrade Terracini:
“When we launched the appeal for a general action of the masses, we conquered the majority in the organizations by means of our propaganda.”
“The majority” ... and then the fine hand of the author made the slight correction “almost the majority”. Another point on which we are fully agreed. But what does it mean: “almost the majority”? Both in Russian and in French, it comes down to saying the minority.
Comrades, even the majority does not yet mean the totality.
“We have the majority, we have four-sevenths of the proletariat.”
But four-sevenths of the proletariat is not yet its totality: the remaining three-sevenths may yet quite well sabotage an action of the class. For they are, after all, three-sevenths of the proletariat.
And “almost the majority” is only three-sevenths of the proletariat. Now, thanks to propaganda, we have three-sevenths, but it is still necessary to win the four-sevenths. That is not an easy matter, comrade Terracini, and if one thinks that by repeating the same methods he has employed to win the three-sevenths he will win the other four, he is mistaken, because as the party grows larger, its methods must change. At the outset, when the proletariat sees this intransigent little revolutionary group which says: “To hell with the reformists! To hell with the bourgeois state!” – it applauds and says: “Very good!” But when it sees these three-sevenths of the vanguard organized by the communists, that there is not much change in the field of discussions, of meetings, the proletariat tires of it, it tires of it and new methods are needed to show it that, now that we are a large party, we are able to participate in the immediate struggle.
And to demonstrate this, the action of the whole proletariat is necessary; this action must be guaranteed and the initiative for it must not be left to others.
When the workers say: Your revolution of tomorrow is of little matter to us! We want to fight today to preserve our 8-hour-day! – then it is we who must take the initiative in unification for today’s battle.
Comrade Terracini says:
“We mustn’t pay much attention to the socialists. There is nothing to be done with them. But we must pay attention to the trade unions.”
And he adds:
“There is nothing new in this. Already at the Second Congress of the Communist International, it was said, perhaps unintentionally: the split in the political parties, but unity in the trade unions.”
I do not understand this at all. I underlined this passage of his speech in red pencil and then in blue pencil, to express my astonishment. We said at the Second Congress, perhaps unintentionally ...
TERRACINI: It was in the polemic with Zinoviev. That was irony. You were not in the hall when I spoke.
TROTSKY: Let’s put it aside and send it in an envelope to Victor Meric. Irony is his specialty.
INTERRUPTIONS: There’s irony in Italy too, as you see ... And even in Moscow ...
TROTSKY: Unfortunately; for as you see I was misled by it. But joking aside. What does it mean: no splitting of the trade unions? And why not? The most dangerous thing in the speech of comrade Renoult, which I read with great interest and in which I found very instructive things for understanding the state of mind of the French communist party, is his assertion that at the present moment we have nothing to do not only with the dissidents but also with the reformist CGT [General Confederation of Labor]. This will be a pleasant surprise to the most maladroit anarchists, if I may say so, of the Unitary CGT. Precisely in the trade union movement, you have applied the theory of the united front; you have applied it with success; and if you now have 300,000 members as compared with the 200,000 supporters of Jouhaux, you owe it, I am sure, in half-measure to the tactic of the united front, because, in the trade union movement, where the problem is to embrace the proletarians of all opinions, of all tendencies, there is the possibility of fighting for your immediate interests. If we were to split the trade unions in accordance with the different tendencies, it would be suicidal.
We said: No, this terrain is for us. Inasmuch as we are independent as communists, we have all the possibilities for manoeuvring, of saying openly what we think, of criticizing the others; we enter the trade unions with this conception and we are sure that within a specified time we shall have the majority behind us.
Jouhaux saw the ground slipping away from under him. Our prognosis was correct. He began the split by means of expulsions. We characterized the expulsions as a crime, for it was unity of action that was needed. That was our tactic.
INTERRUPTION: Renoult said that!
TROTSKY: To be sure, Jouhaux shattered the unity by the expulsions of the communists. That’s just where the meaning of the united front lies. In our struggle against the reformists, against the dissidents, as you named them, the syndicalist-reformists, social-patriots, etc., we must make them responsible for the split, we must continually force them to express themselves on the possibility of a joint action on the basis of the class struggle. They must be faced with the necessity of stating an open “No” before the entire working class.
If the situation is favorable for the demands of the working class, we must push these gentlemen forward. In two years, let us assume, we shall have the revolution. Meanwhile, we will have an ever increasing movement of the working class. Do you think that the Jouhauxs and the Merrheims will remain as they are today? No, they will always try; they will take one or two steps forward and, since there will always be people in their camp who refuse to follow them, they will experience a new split. We will profit by it. That is naturally a tactic of movement, a very flexible tactic, but at the same time a thoroughly energetic one, for the leadership remains firmly in our hands. And when great events occur – here I am fuljy in accord with comrade Terracini – the unity of action will be established by itself. We will not prevent it. But, comrade Terracini tells us, at the given moment there are no great events and we have no reason for proposing the united front ...
TERRACINI: I never said that.
TROTSKY: Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps it is not you who said it. But the argument was brought forward here, for I saw it in the stenogram. The French comrades say: Yes, if great events come; but if they don’t come, what then? Then we must bring them about by our own initiative. I contend, and I believe it is an axiom, that one of the obstacles to great events, one of the psychological obstacles for the proletariat, is the fact that several political and trade union organizations exist side by side, the differences between which the masses do not understand; they do not see clearly how they are to realize their action. This psychological obstacle is naturally of the greatest negative significance; it is the outcome of a situation which was not created by us, but we must make it easier for the masses to understand it. We propose to an organization
this or that immediate action; this corresponds entirely to the logic of things. I contend that if the Unitary CGT were to adopt the tactic of ignoring the Jouhauxist CGT, it will be the greatest mistake that we can commit in France. And if the party commits this mistake, it will be crushed under its weight, because the 300,000 revolutionary workers in the trade, unions – and comrades, they are only a minimum – these 300,000 workers are practically your party, somewhat expanded by various elements, that’s all. And where is the French proletariat?
You will reply: But they aren’t with Jouhaux either! Yes, that’s right. But I say that the workers who are in no organization, the most disillusioned or mentally most sluggish elements, may very well be drawn behind us at the moment of an acute revolutionary crisis, but in a dragging epoch they are much rather a prop of Jouhaux. For what does Jouhaux represent? The sluggishness of the working class. And the fact that you have no more than 300,000 workers shows that there is no little sluggishness left in the French working class, even though the French workers are indubitably superior to the backward workers of other countries.
And now once more on the question of exposing the Jouhauxs. How is that to be done? In what way can we force them to express themselves about the mass actions and to take responsibility for them?
There is still another danger. If the Unitary CGT simply turns its back to the reformist Confederation, and tries to win the masses by means of revolutionary propaganda, it will perhaps commit the samp mistakes that the railroad union of France has already made. You know very well that the trade union movement, trade union actions, are very hard to direct. The great reserves of backward masses who are represented by Jouhaux must always be borne in mind, and if we ignore Jouhaux, it is equivalent to ignoring the masses of backward workers.
That is how the question presents itself in my eyes.
There is still another urgent question, namely, the question of the conference of the three Internationals. Comrades, it is said: The idea of working together with the people of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals is a great surprise to us. We are not prepared for this idea of international collaboration with those whom we have denounced.
To be sure, it is necessary to prepare all minds in time for a turn of such scope. That is correct. The question has aroused a lively agitation. But what caused it? It was the so-called Genoa Conference, which also came up very suddenly. When we received the invitation to this conference, the personal invitation to comrade Lenin, it was a surprise to us. If this conference should really take place, whether in Genoa or in Rome, it will more or less determine the destiny of the world, in so far as the bourgeoisie can do it. Then the proletariat will feel the need of doing something.
Naturally, we communists will do everything possible, by means of propaganda, of meetings, of demonstrations; but not only among communists, but also among the workers, in the working class as a whole, in Germany, in France, there is the feeling, still vague perhaps, of the need of doing something in order to acquire an influence upon the negotiations of this conference from the standpoint of the interests of the proletariat.
Now, the Two-and-a-Half International takes the initiative: of a conference and invites us to attend. We must decide: yes or no? Should we answer these people: “You are traitors, we will undertake nothing in common with you”? Their treachery is a long-known fact, and it has been branded countless times. But these gentlemen will be able to say: We of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals want to exercise a pressure upon the diplomatic conference of the bourgeoisie through the voice of the proletariat; we invited the communists, but they refused and answered us with abuse. And we reply: Since you are traitors, scoundrels (they will see to it that this word is expunged from the stenogram), we will not go. Of course, our communist audience will be convinced by us, for it is already convinced. We have no need to convince it over again. But the supporters of the Second and the Two-and-a-Half Internationals, among whom there are many workers? That is the only question of any importance. If you say: “No, the Mensheviks have lost all influence everywhere”, then I don’t worry a bit about the conferences of the Second and the Two-and-a-Half Internationals; but say so. But unfortunately, the workers who support the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals are more numerous than the workers who support the Third International.
The fact that must be borne in mind is that Friedrich Adler has addressed himself to us in these words: We invite you to participate in a conference which is to discuss and decide on common pressure to exert upon the bourgeoisie, upon its diplomacy. They invite us and with us the workers of the entire world. If we confine ourselves, in our reply to repeating: “You are social-traitors” – it will be a maladroit answer. The Scheidemanns, the Friedrich Adlers, Longuets e tutti quanti would then have an easy job in the working class. There, they will say, the communists claim that we are traitors; but when we turn to them and invite them to cooperate with us for a specific period and a well-defined purpose, they refuse. Let us, comrades, reserve this designation of traitors and scoundrels for the moment after the conference, perhaps even for the conference itself. But it is not now, in our letter of reply, that we should say: we refuse to attend because you are traitors and scoundrels. Will this conference surely take place? I do not know. There are comrades who are more optimistic about it and others who are more pessimistic. But if the conference does not succeed, then let it be exclusively because of the Scheidemanns. Then we shall be able to say to the workers: Your Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals are impotent to do what they themselves proposed to us. That will not only bring us the applause of the communists, but a part of the Scheidemann people will listen to us and say: There is something rotten here; an agreement was proposed and the German social-democrats did not come. Then the struggle between the Scheidemanns and ourselves will begin anew. We will conduct it upon a broader basis, one more favorable to us. That too is the only result towards which we aspire.
I do not know, comrades, if the conference can be postponed; that surely does not depend upon our wishes. It would be very important from the standpoint of preparing the minds of the workers. But this conference is being proposed to us now, before the Conference of Genoa, and we must reply.
And even if there is a worker in the Seine Federation who exclaims: “My party wants to meet with Jouhaux. No! I tear up my card!” – we will say to him: “My dear friend, you are wrought up now; have a little patience.” And if he slams the door behind him, we will regret greatly his departure, but it will be his fault. Then, a few weeks later, when he will read the news of the British Conference, when he will see Cachin and the delegates of the other communist parties participating, speaking and acting as communists; then, after the conference, when the struggle continues but our opponents are more completely unmasked than before the conference – we shall have convinced him and all the other communists and, at the same time, our aim shall have been attained. That is why I believe that the conference should decide unanimously in favor of participation, not with the already ritualized appeals, but with the statement: Yes, we are ready, as representatives of the revolutionary interests of the world proletariat, faced with this new attempt of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals to deceive the proletariat, to try to open its eyes to the criminal policy of these two Internationals.
Moscow, February 26, 1922