Written on July 20, 1933.
The article, signed with a penname, appeared in the Bulletin of the Opposition, No.36-37, October 1933.
It was translated for The Militant, October 21, 1933.
Trotsky had received a visa to live in France, and this article was written on the Bulgaria, an Italian ship, en route from Turkey to Marseilles.
Source: Marxists Internet Archive
A. It is time to break with the Moscow caricature of an International. It is impossible to bear even a shadow of political responsibility for the Stalinists. We have been very prudent and very patient with regard to the Comintern; but there is a limit to everything: now that Hitler has been placed in the saddle, before the whole world, by Weis on one side and Stalin on the other; now that the Comintern, despite the catastrophe, has proclaimed its policy infallible – no sensible man will any longer hope that this clique can be “reformed.”
B. The clique certainly not, but the Comintern taken as a whole?
A. One must not be deceived by general phrases. The “Comintern as a whole” is an abstraction, not to say an empty expression. Control is in the hands of the Stalinist clique. For six years now there has been no congress. Who has trampled on the statutes? The clique. By what right? By the right of usurpation. Not one section, not one local organization, not one paper has dared to breathe a word about the necessity for an International Congress. This means that in fact the fate of the “Comintern as a whole” lies in the hands of an irresponsible clique.
B. That is incontestable, but isn’t that just how things stood a year ago, when we had not yet withdrawn the slogan of the reform of the Comintern?
A. No. That is not how the matter stood. A year ago, one still could hope to salvage the situation in Germany. We did everything in our power to throw light on the logic of the situation. If the Comintern had been a viable organization, its leadership could not have failed to hear the voice of events: it is absolutely impossible to expect a more powerful voice. And if the Comintern remained deaf this time, it means that it is a corpse. In still another respect, a decisive change has taken place: last year, the German Communist Party still existed. In the whirlpool of great events, it still had to reckon with the working masses. One had a certain right to hope, right up to the hour of the verification, that the development of the struggle of the masses would reverse not only Thälmann’s Central Committee, but also the presidium of Stalin-Manuilsky. That did not happen. Of the German Communist Party nothing has been left but an apparatus that grows weaker every day and becomes increasingly alienated from the masses. The point has been reached where the Central Committee prohibits the local illegal organizations from publishing their own articles and appeals: the duty of the local committees is only to reprint the revelations of the Manuilskys and the Heckerts.  Every movement of thought represents a mortal danger for these people. The victory of Hitler is not really a “defeat” for them; it has freed them from all control from below ... But now that the strongest party of the Comintern has left the stage, there is decidedly no means, no channel, and no lever left by which to act upon the clique that rules the Comintern.
B. Can the German Communist Party be spoken of as the strongest party of the Comintern? Have you forgotten the Communist Party of the Soviet Union?
A. No, I have not forgotten. Even if one recognizes that the CPSU is a party (in reality, within the administrative cadres of the CPSU, which change according to the will of the clique, several parties are conducting a covert struggle against each other), this party is, in any case, not an active section of the Comintern. The Soviet workers have no idea of what is happening to the proletarian movement in the West: nothing is communicated to them or, still worse, they are ignobly deceived. Within the Politburo itself, with its present composition, there is not a single person who knows the life and the tendencies of the workers’ movement in the capitalist countries.
The slogan of the “reform” of the Comintern was, for us, never a hollow phrase. We counted on reform as on a reality. Developments followed the worst road. That is precisely why we are compelled to declare that the policy of reform is exhausted to the very end.
B. Is it possible for us, then, to leave the centrist bureaucracy heir to the banner of the Comintern?
A. One should not be misled by ambiguous formulas. What is understood by a banner? A program? But long since we rejected the program adopted by the Sixth Congress as a pernicious admixture of opportunism and adventurism. In the course of several years, basing ourselves on the lessons of events, we counted upon changing the program of the Comintern by internal means. Now this possibility has disappeared at the same time as the possibility of “reform.” To the miserable, eclectic program of the Comintern, we must oppose our Marxist program.
B. And the first four congresses of the Comintern?
A. Naturally, we do not abandon them, especially since the Stalinists have long ago renounced them and given them over to us. We will build our program upon the foundation established by the first four congresses: it is an irreproachable Marxist foundation; it is our foundation. Only the Left Opposition has translated the lessons of the last ten years into the language of Marxism. Our International Pre-Conference has summed up these lessons in its eleven points. There is, however, an omission from the total. The Pre-Conference met on the eve of the decisive examination to which history submitted the Comintern. The complete and conclusive collapse of the Comintern is not recorded in the decisions of the Pre-Conference. It must be done by the Conference. As far as everything else goes, the decisions of the Pre-Conference retain all their force. The principal documents of the first four congresses plus the eleven points of the Left Opposition – these are the fundamental elements of the true program of the Communist International.
B. The opponents, in spite of everything, will say that we are renouncing the banner of Lenin.
A. The opponents have been shouting that for some time, and all the more loudly the more they trample the heritage of Bolshevism into the mud. As for us, we shall say to the workers of the entire world that we are taking upon ourselves the defense of the banner of Marx and Lenin, the continuation and development of their work in the intransigent struggle not only against the reformist traitors – that goes without saying but also against the centrist falsifiers of Bolshevism, usurpers of the banner of Lenin, organizers of defeats and capitulations, and corrupters of the proletarian vanguard: the Stalinists.
B. Then what is to be done about the CPSU? What is to be done about the USSR? Won’t the opponents say that we consider as lost the achievements of the workers’ state and that we are preparing armed insurrection against the Soviet government?
A. Certainly they will say that. They have been saying it for some time now. What else can they say to justify their base persecutions of the Bolshevik-Leninists? But we are guided not by the calumny of opponents but by the actual course of the class struggle. The October Revolution, with the Bolshevik Party at its head, created the workers’ state. Now the Bolshevik Party no longer exists. But the fundamental social content of the October Revolution is still alive. The bureaucratic dictatorship, notwithstanding the technical successes achieved under it (against itself), greatly facilitates the possibility of the capitalist restoration, but luckily the point of a restoration has not yet been reached. With favorable internal and, above all, international conditions, the edifice of the workers’ state can be regenerated on the social foundations of the Soviet Union without a new revolution. For a long time we had calculated that we would succeed in reforming the CPSU itself, and through its mediation, in regenerating the Soviet regime. But the present official party now bears much less resemblance to a party than two years ago or even a year ago. The party congress has not taken place for more than three years, and nobody talks about it. The Stalinist clique is now whittling down and reconstructing its “party,” as if it were a disciplinary battalion. The purges and expulsions were at first intended to disorganize the party, to terrorize it, to deprive it of the possibility of thinking and acting; now the repressions are aimed at preventing the reorganization of the party. Yet the proletarian party is indispensable if the Soviet state is not to perish. There are many elements in favor of it but only in a struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy can they be brought to the surface and united. To speak now of the “reform” of the CPSU would mean to look backward and not forward, to soothe one’s mind with empty formulas. In the USSR, it is necessary to build a Bolshevik party again. B. But isn’t that the road of civil war?
A. The Stalinist bureaucracy ordered a civil war against the Left Opposition even in the period when we stood quite sincerely and with conviction for the reform of the CPSU. Arrests, deportations, executions – what are these if not civil war, at least in embryo? In the struggle against the Left Opposition, the Stalinist bureaucracy constituted an instrument of the counterrevolutionary forces, and thus it isolated itself from the masses. Now civil war is placed on the order of the day along another line: between the counter-revolution on the offensive and the Stalinist bureaucracy on the defensive. In the struggle with the counter-revolution, the Bolshevik-Leninists will obviously be the left flank of the Soviet front. A fighting bloc in coalition with the Stalinists will result here from the whole situation. It should not, however, be thought that in this struggle the Stalinist bureaucracy will be unanimous. At the decisive moment, it will break up into fragments and its component elements will meet again in the two opposing camps.
B. So civil war is inevitable?
A. It is going on right now. By keeping to the present course, it can only become more acute. With the further impotence of the Comintern, with the paralysis of the international proletarian vanguard, and, under those conditions, with the inevitable growth of world fascism, the victory of the counterrevolution in the USSR would be inevitable. Naturally, the Bolshevik-Leninists will continue their work in the USSR regardless of the conditions. But the workers’ state can be saved only by the intervention of the world revolutionary movement. In all of human history, the objective conditions for this regeneration and redevelopment have never been so favorable as now. What is lacking is the revolutionary party. The Stalinist clique can rule only by destroying the party, in the USSR as in the rest of the world. Escape from this vicious circle is possible only by breaking with the Stalinist bureaucracy. It is necessary to build a party in a fresh place, under a clean banner.
B. And how will the revolutionary parties of the capitalist world be able to act upon the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR?
A. The whole question is one of real strength. We have seen how the Stalinist bureaucracy crawled before the Kuomintang, before the British trade unions. We see how it is crawling now, even before the petty-bourgeois pacifists. Strong revolutionary parties, truly capable of fighting against imperialism, and consequently of defending the USSR, will compel the Stalinist bureaucracy to reckon with them. Much more important is the fact that these organizations will acquire an enormous authority in the eyes of the Soviet workers and will thus finally create favorable conditions for the rebirth of a genuine Bolshevik party. It is only on this road that the reform of the Soviet state is possible without a new proletarian revolution.
B. So then: we abandon the slogan of the reform of the CPSU and we build up the new party as the instrument for the reform of the Soviet Union.
A. Perfectly correct.
B. Is our strength equal to such a grandiose task?
A. The question is put incorrectly. It is necessary first to formulate the historical problem clearly and courageously, and then to assemble the forces to solve it. Certainly we are still weak today. But that does not at all mean that history will grant us a delay. One of the psychological springs of opportunism is fear of great tasks, that is, the mistrust of revolutionary possibilities. However, great tasks do not fan from the sky; they emerge from the course of the class struggle. It is in just these very conditions that we must seek the forces for the resolution of the great tasks.
B. But doesn’t the overestimation of one’s own forces often lead to adventurism?
A. True. It would be pure adventurism if we were to “proclaim” that our present organization is the Communist International or if, under this name, we were to unite mechanically with the various other opposition organizations. It is impossible to “proclaim” a new International: the perspective as yet is still to build it. But one can and should, from today on, proclaim the necessity of creating a new International.
Ferdinand Lassalle, who was no stranger to opportunism or adventurism, nevertheless expressed perfectly well the fundamental requirement of revolutionary politics: “Every great action begins with the statement of what is.” Before replying to concrete questions about this – how a new International is to be built what methods are to be applied, what dates are to be fixed – it is necessary to assert openly what is: The Comintern is dead for the revolution.
B. On this point, in your opinion, there can no longer be any doubts?
A. Not a shadow. The whole course of the struggle against National Socialism, the outcome of that struggle, and the lessons of this outcome indicate equally not only the complete revolutionary bankruptcy of the Comintern, but also its organic incapacity to learn, to mend its ways, that is, “to reform itself” The German lesson would not be so irrefutable and so crushing were it not the crowning piece in a ten-year history of centrist blundering, of pernicious errors, of ever more horrifying defeats, of increasingly fruitless sacrifices and losses, and – side by side with that – complete theoretical devastation; bureaucratic degeneration; parroting; demoralization; duping the masses; uninterrupted falsifications; banishment of revolutionists; and the selection of functionaries, mercenaries, and pure lackeys. The present Comintern is an expensive apparatus for weakening the proletarian vanguard. That is all! It is not capable of doing more.
Wherever the conditions of bourgeois democracy open up a certain elbow-room, the Stalinists, thanks to their apparatus and treasury, simulate political activity. Münzenberg has now become a symbolical figure of the Comintern. And who is Münzenberg? He is an Oustric on the “proletarian” arena. Empty noncommittal slogans; a little bit of Bolshevism; a little bit of liberalism; a journalistic cattle auction; literary salons where friendship for the USSR has its price; theatrical hostility towards the reformists, changing easily into friendship for them (Barbusse); and mainly, plenty of cash, independent of the working masses – that is what Münzenberg is. Living politically off the favors of the bourgeois democracy, the Stalinists yet demand of them, to top it all off, that they strike down the Bolshevik-Leninists. Can one sink lower? ... Yet as soon as the bourgeoisie seriously lifts the fascist or simply the police fist Stalinism puts its tail between its legs and obediently retires into the void. The Comintern in agony can give nothing to the world proletariat absolutely nothing, except evil.
B. It is impossible not to acknowledge that the Comintern, as a central apparatus, has become a brake on the revolutionary movement, just as it must be agreed that reform of the apparatus, independent of the masses, is utterly unrealizable. But what about the national sections? Are all of them in the same stage of degeneration and decadence?
A. After the German catastrophe, we saw how the Stalinist parties were liquidated without mass resistance in Austria as well as in Bulgaria. If the situation is more favorable in some countries than in others, the difference, despite everything, is not very great. But let us even assume that one section of the Comintern or another is found to be conquered by the Left Opposition: the morning after this, if not the night before, it will be expelled from the Comintern and it will have to seek a new International for itself (something like that did happen in Chile). Cases of that sort also took place during the rise of the Third International: thus, the French Socialist Party transformed itself officially into the Communist Party. But that did not change the general direction of our policy towards the Second International.
B. Don’t you think that thousands of “Stalinists” sympathetic to us will recoil in fright when they learn that we are breaking finally with the Comintern?
A. It is possible. It is even entirely likely. But all the more decisively will they join with us at the next stage. It must not be forgotten, on the other hand, that in every country there are thousands of revolutionists who have abandoned the official party or been expelled from it, who did not join us chiefly because to them we were only a faction of that same party with which they were disgusted. An even greater number of workers are breaking right now from reformism and seeking revolutionary leadership. Finally, amid the putrefaction of the Social Democracy and the wreck of Stalinism, a young generation of workers that needs a stainless banner is rising. The Bolshevik-Leninists can and should form the kernel around which all these numerous elements may crystallize. Then everything alive in the Stalinist “International” will shake off its last doubts and join us.
B. Are you not afraid that the new orientation will meet with opposition within our own ranks?
A. At first it is absolutely inevitable. In many countries all the work of the Left Opposition is chiefly, if not exclusively, bound up with the official party. It has penetrated very little into the trade unions and has been almost totally uninterested in what is happening inside the Social Democracy. It is high time to put an end to narrow propagandism! It is necessary for each member of our organization to think over the problem thoroughly. The events will help: every day will bring irrefutable arguments on the necessity of a new International. I do not doubt that carrying out the turn simultaneously and decisively will open up before us a broad historical perspective.