The following introductions to sections of the French edition of Trotsky’s works, edited by Broué, provide a useful and short biography over the relevant period, November 1933-February 1937, his period in exile in France and Norway.
It has all been translated by the late John Archer. I have made a few very minor corrections, a few spelling mistakes, repeats of words and some minor grammatical changes. I have also put all the names of all publications in italics rather than inverted commas. Note by transcriber. Ted Crawford March 2007.
STRUGGLE FOR THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL
(November 1933 to April 1934)
being the Introduction, written by Pierre Broue and Michel Dreyfus, to Volume III of Leon Trotsky: Oeuvres".
Translated from French by John Archer
* * * * * *
Trotsky left St. Palais (a small place near the mouth of the river Garonne, in South-West France) for a three-weeks holiday, on October 3, 1933. On November 1, he, his companion Natalia and his fellow-workers, moved into the Villa Ker-Monique at Barbizon, on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau. The French Surete had given its agreement and the secret was well guarded. There were practically no visits here, because Trotsky could now move about without attracting attention. He went to Paris from time to time and took part in meetings of comrades of his organisation. He also met leaders and members of other part and currents. In fact, he enjoyed a certain freedom of movement, with a minimum of precautions, for the first time for years. He could have a place on the Executive Committee of the French Ligue, and even and even participate as a representative of the Internationalist Communist League (1) - as the former International Left Opposition now called itself - in the pre-conference of the four signatories of the August declaration, which was held in secrecy in Paris on December 30, 1933.
In this period there is little to satisfy the curiosity of the researcher. Documents become rarer. We have nothing like the precious correspondence with Jan Frankel or with the International Secretariat. Nor have we any written trace of the discussions which Trotsky had with a number of militants, such, for example, as Simone Weil, or with the former Zinovievist leaders of the K.P.D. and of its left, Ruth Fischer and Maslov, or till great Austrian journalist, Willy Schlamm, the chief editor of Die Neue Weltbuhne, or the Belgian, Henri Spaak, the leader of the left in the Belgian Labour Party, to mention only the best known.
The Barbizon period lasted less than six months. It was dominated by two related events. On the one hand, we have the "turn", which was achieved in August 1933 by the "Declaration of Four", for a new International, which he intended to concretise by common work and fusions in certain cases Netherlands and Germany), preparing for unification on the international plane. On the other hand, we have the split in the ranks of the French Ligue in Paris, carried out by an opposition which was not very politically homogeneous but which was united in a common resistance to the "methods" used to effect the turn.
In August Trotsky was trying in vain to avert the split or, at any rate, to delay it. But finally he chose his side and ended by frankly wishing for it. The Jewish Group departed, taking with then the student Lasterade, who had been with him for a time at St. Palais. Lasterade went on to found the "Communist Union", which published its monthly journal, L'International from the beginning of November. We seek in vain for any more than a passing reference in Trotaky's writings to this group. He definitively put it out of his mind. Even when in December 1933 the French supporters of the "Left Fraction", led by his old adversary, Kurt Landau, entered the Communist Union, they did not draw a line of comment from him.
On the other hand, he did fight everywhere that he thought he could effect a "regeneration". The New Italian Opposition (N.O.I.) was severely shaken by sharp discussion on the "turn" in 1933. Giacomo Bavassano and Teresa Recchia, two of its founders, went with the "Communist Union". The I.S. had to intervene to cancel the exclusion of Blasco (2), another of its founders. We find echoes in the press of the Italian Communist Party of the hesitations of Alfonso Leonetti. In March 1934, Paolo Ravazzoli resigned and joined the Italian Socialist Party, in order to advocate there the organic re-unification of the Socialist and Communist Parties against fascism. However, Leonetti publicly repudiated his hesitations, - and in the same month the New Italian Opposition won a first important recruit when a young militant, Veniero Spinelli, recently out of Mussolini's jails, publicly joined it, followed by a group formed in Italy itself around the underground Communist leader Metallo. The old Bolletino, very modest, made way at once for a more ambitious monthly, Verita.
The man whom Trotsky held responsible for the split in the French Ligue was the Greek Witte-Yotopoulos. He was a former member of the International Secretariat. He left France in October 1933, to try to rally round himself the Greek Archaeo-Marxist organisation, which with some 2000 members, was numerically the largest section up to that time. However, his enterprise was only partly successful. Trotsky and the International Secretariat had formed links with the Greek section in the recent past and held their supporters firm right up to the Political Bureau. A split in its own ranks replied to the break of the Archaeo-Marxist organisation from the I.C.L., and the birth of a new organisation, which was at once recognised as the Greek section, under the leadership of the actor, George Vitzoris.
The damage appeared to be definitely limited in Britain also, though it was not completed repaired. The majority of the British section rejected the proposal of Trotsky that they should enter the I.L.P. This majority pursued its efforts to construct an independent organisation, round its journal, Red Flag. There was no formal breach, but there was also a serious weakening of the links with the International Secretariat, which wished to recognise the "majority" as a "sympathising" section. The minority, on the other hand, "entered" the I.L.P., with a delay for which Trotsky criticised it. Finally, however, it really did operate the policy which had been proposed to the section in August 1933. It began to win successes which were important on the scale of an organisation of twenty members, supported by the English-language publications from the American section.
The opponents of the "turn" may have believed for a moment that they had taken with them the Polish section. This was initially divided between doubt and open hostility. The fact is that its history is unique. It was formed inside the underground Communist Party only in 1932. But it was really homogeneous. The discussion was prolonged and sharp, but at the beginning of 1934, without a split, it approved the turn and the orientation towards the Fourth International. This conclusion led to the acceptance of the Polish Opposition by the Internationalist Communist League, which until then had been deferred. An article in Unser Wort announced that the Polish leader, Herschl Mendel Stockfisch, an old Communist, had just arrived in Paris and met Trotsky there.
Unser Wort, the former bi-monthly in exile of the German Left Opposition - renamed the I.K.D. - became a weekly (4). Trotsky saw this as a great success, because the "German work" continued to be the pivot of international construction. The journal had a real audience, both in the emigration and in Germany, where it was regularly distributed. A former Reichstag deputy, Maria Reese, the former fighter in the German civil war, Erich Wollenberg, and the former Comintern representative in Germany, Felix Wolf, wrote in it publicly. It proclaimed in turn that the Communist International was bankrupt and that the Fourth International must be fought for. The "Open Letter" to Piatnitsky, a leader of the Communist International, which was drafted by Karl Friedberg, one of the leaders of the underground apparatus of the K.P.D. in the Sarreland, and a secret member of the Bolshevik-Leninist fraction, was published in Unser Wort, making a real impression, and probably contributed to changing the policy of the K.P.D. in the Sarre. In Germany itself in the mortally dangerous conditions of illegality imposed by the ferocious repression, some young cadres of the K.P.D. sought out and made contact with the clandestine organisation of the I.K.D. as the source of the news from Germany, signed "Jan Bur", which appeared in Unser Wort. Finally, Trotsky believed that he had won a political victory when he convinced the Zinovievists, Ruth Fischer and Maslov, that they should join the I.C.L. This question, however, was the occasion for an outbreak of disagreement which was never settled. The leaders of the German section unanimously opposed the admission of these two former leaders of the K.P.D., whose earlier capitulations and recantations filled them with utter mistrust.
Things did not go forward as quickly as Trotsky hoped - because he thought it necessary - with the "Four", situated at the heart of the crucial question of the construction of the International. There were promising initiatives in September and October. The R.S.P. entered the Internationalist Communist League. Joint commissions were set up to effect the fusion of the R.S.P. and the O.S.P. in the Netherlands. A document on work in Germany was worked out jointly by the S.A.P. and the I.K.D. Fritz Sternberg, the economist of the S.A.P., produced a draft thesis on the world economic situation. But this tendency was quickly reversed. The fusion of the parties in the Netherlands was delayed, because Sneevliet firmly opposed a precipitate fusion, proposed by the O.S.P., which would be without any discussion. At first also the fusion between the I.K.D. and the S.A.P., on which great expectations had been placed, was delayed, and was then soon compromised by the deterioration of relations between the I.C.L. and the S.A.P. This can be sensed from October 1933 onwards in the correspondence passing between Trotsky and Walcher. It is clear that, on this level, the S.A.P. was in full retreat, though we cannot establish on a basis of facts the precise account of the factors which this prevented what had seemed to be the the firm decisions which Walcher had made in its name in August from being fulfilled. On this point, Kurt Landau, an exile in Paris, stated in his journal (5) that the opposition in the S.A.P. to the fusion was inspired by the refugee groups in Norway (in which the young Willy Brandt was starting to play an important role) perhaps because of the relations of every kind which they had with Tranmael's D.N.A., which Trotsky made the target of his criticism for its "opportunism", but which had a prospect of early electoral victory.
This hypothesis seems likely; it is supported by the sharpness of the exchanges between Trotsky and Walcher precisely on the subject of the D.N.A. Did the clandestine S.A.P. groups in Germany itself also oppose the fusion, as Landau says? This time there is no documentary evidence to support this last statement.
On the other hand, it is perfectly clear that in August 1933 Walcher had not started to go down a new road, but had only reached the furthest point of an oscillation to the left. The promises of the German patron, Julius Gomperz, made the publication of a joint discussion journal possible, but the plan failed, because Walcher insisted that the Brandlerites of the K.P.O. should be invited to contribute. In this way Walcher's demand perhaps permits the supposition that the break between the Brandlerites of the K.P.O. and the ex-Brandlerites who won over the S.A.P. was not a thorough-going one. No doubt we may add that other S.A.P. leaders in exile, such as the young and brilliant Boris Goldenberg, seem to have changed their original conception of the relation of forces within the international workers' movement as a result of the contacts which they had made in exile with the social-democratic parties. Goldenberg, like Thomas, was believed in Germany to be close to Trotsky, but he opposed the fusion and soon began to exercise his polemical verve against "Trotskyism".
Disagreements accumulated during the closing months of 1933. These were about whether to produce a joint theoretical review with the participation of the Brandlerites, whether to make a public evaluation of the orientation of Tranmael's D.N.A., whether to participate in the "London Bureau" of the I.A.G., which the I.C.L. denounced, while the S.A.P. and the O.S.P. were members of it. The pre-conference of the "four", on December 30, took note of unresolved disagreements, but left the door half-open for all that. But in February 1934 the door was slammed, when the S.A.P. and the O.S.P. demanded that the I.C.L. join the I.A.G. In fact, the other groups had had no real activity since August 1933. On the contrary, the S.A.P. and the O.S.P. had done nothing towards having any. Both of them seemed disposed to quit the "Bloc of Four", the declaration of which had never had more than very general value in their eyes. This was the moment at which Trotsky decided to open up a polemic against the most hostile elements among these "centrist" formations, the best elements of which he still hoped to win, under the stinging lash of his criticism.
One more card remained to be played. For a time much seems to have been expected from it; in October 1933 the youth organisation of the O.S.P. took the initiative of calling an international conference of revolutionary Socialist and Communist youth organisations. Trotsky had not forgotten that the Youth International, which Muenzenberg and his comrades had kept going in Switzerland during World War I, had been one of the elements in the foundation of the IIIrd International. Through the youth, he might win the struggle, the short-term prospects of which were seriously compromised among the adults. The International Secretariat responded to Trotsky's call, mobilised its youth organisations in all its sections and called upon them to participate in the conference, the preparation of which was entrusted to commissions.
The conference opened at Laren (in the Netherlands) in February 1934, in a youth hostel. However, it was terminated almost immediately by a police raid and the arrest of those foreigners whose papers were not in order. The Netherlands government handed over four S.A.P. members to Hitler. None the less, the work of the conference was concluded in a hall in the Free University of Brussels. The press communiques indicated that it was held in Lille and its internal documents called it "the Luxemburg Conference". Its final resolution is a confused appeal for a new International, and was sharply criticised by Trotsky, who reproached his young comrades for having surrendered to the pressure of the centrists without resistance. An "international youth bureau" of three members was formed. One of them was the young German Walter Held. The International Secretariat was pleased when the "bureau" quickly installed itself near Stockholm, seeing a means to influence the party of Kilbom and its youth. Trotsky warned against excessive illusions on that score; besides, it was at Oslo that Held was to install himself.
The developments in North America produced news which confirmed Trotsky in the belief that the road which the 1933 "turn" had opened was correct. The economic and social crisis was provoking many changes and an important maturation in sections of the working-class, limited, to be sure, but important. The former parson, A.J.Muste, who had turned to the struggle of the workers in the strike wave which followed World War I, and who, as director of the Brookwood workers' college, which had educated many of the "politicised" cadres of the trade union movement, formed the American Workers' Party. The A.W.P. conducted a serious campaign to organise the unemployed and to penetrate certain trade unions. A left-wing was developing in the Socialist Party of U.S.A. The Lovestone organisation split. The American section of the Left Opposition had decided to advance from work as a "propaganda circle" to mass work, called for the construction of a new party, and proposed to the A.W.P. a unification, which aroused widespread sympathy in its ranks and opened up to the Communist League of America the perspective of fusion with a group better implanted than itself.
The Internationalist Communist League had not completely emerged from the isolation in which the Left Opposition had been in 1933. Many indices show that this danger was again facing it, not only with the "bloc of four" having more or less fallen apart, but also under the blows of the counter-attack from the Stalinists. Trotsky had succeeded in getting access to the columns of the prestigious Neue Weltbuhne, thanks to his relations with Willy Schlamm. There followed a fishy financial operation, in which, despite virtuous denials, it is impossible not to discern the intervention at least of men of straw of the Communist International, and money from the "Muenzenberg Trust" if not from the G.P.U. There followed a sensational coup d'etat in the editorship of the review which Carl von Ossietsky had founded. Willy Schlamm was dismissed and the new editors, led by Hermann Budzislayski, very quickly re-oriented the journal, which became no more than a docile fellow-traveller of the Communist International. There now remained no large circulation journal in Europe to carry Trotsky's articles. Only in the New World would large-circulation papers now do so. The small-sale journals of the national sections were almost the only publications in Europe to do so.
However, where Trotsky himself was at work, in France, things were going ahead well. To be sure, the French comrades were taking more time than he liked to turn towards the Socialist Party (S.F.I.O.), the political crisis within which, he believed, was opening up enormous possibilities. The exclusion of its entrenched right-wing in the parliamentary group (the "Neo-Socialistes) was at one and the same time the result of, and an important encouragement to, a leftward movement in the party in which Trotsky believed that a fraction should be built. Moreover, the agitation of the French Bolshevik-Leninists for a united front of workers' organisations corresponded, beyond all doubt, to the real aspirations of the workers of France, who were deeply concerned by the catastrophe in Germany, and uneasy about the rising agitation and boldness of an extreme right in France, organised in the fascist "leagues", while the workers' leadership was divided.
On February 6, 1934, the "leagues" provoked a riot, which within a few days evoked from the working class such a response as imposed unity on their trade union and political organisations, which had been divided. Between February 6 and 12, and on the morrow of February 12, the day which conferred immense prestige on the French Trotskyists for the ideas which they had defended and which marked a great change, they seemed to acquire a new stature. Trotsky was able to study at first hand the rise in the influence of his comrades and the wholly new authority which they acquired, especially among the Left Socialists who controlled the Seine Federation of the S.F.I.O., around Marceau Pivert and in the "Entente des Jeunesses". He also observed with passionate interest the birth within the Communist Party-of France of the opposition, led by the St. Denis section of the party under the leadership of Jacques Doriot, with the banner declaring that a policy of workers' united front was necessary. He believed that here was the first sign of an inevitable crisis within that party.
Progress was especially spectacular among the youth. A number of leading members of the Socialist Youth of the Seine Federation demanded to join the Bolshevik-Leninists and the Communist League, remaining as a "fraction" in their original organisation. An initiative by the Bolshevik-Leninist youth, who were particularly active, resulted in the formation of a specific form of youth anti-fascist alliance, which the Socialist, Anarchist and Communist youth all joined. The Socialist Youth of the Seine declared for a new Youth International. An analogous radicalisation developed in neighbouring Spain, though at a different pace and in different forms. A powerful left quickly developed in the P.S.O.E. and the U.G.T. (the Spanish Socialist Party and the reformist-led trade unions), led by Francisco Largo Caballero. The review, Leviatan, under the control of Luis Araquistain, welcomed the collaboration of the Spanish Trotskyists. The Socialist youth in Spain turned towards what they called "Bolshevisation", confusedly but clearly declaring that they were for the "Bolshevisation" of their party and, soon, for a new International.
Trotsky hoped that he might play, on the spot in France and in Western Europe, the role which his geographical remoteness and isolation had prevented him from playing in Germany. That role would consist of advising and of contributing as a leader to the education of the still-young and inexperienced cadres. He did his utmost to arm his comrades for their political struggle. Decisive confrontations lay ahead on the question of arming the workers and forming a workers' militia. He worked with them to prepare a programme of action. Clandestinity was essential. We have only a few documents (marked: "confidential"), because Trotsky tried day by day to convince, to explain and to involve people by personal contact.
However, the general situation was increasingly dangerous making the most careful precautions useless. The rising tension of the class-confrontations and re-alignments in France, and the political and social battles on the horizon, could not fail to threaten the already precarious refuge of the exile. During the February days, the Nazi press in Germany constantly denounced "the hand of Trotsky behind the revolutionary troubles" in France, where the press of the extreme right gallantly fell in step behind it. Capitalist France had entered a period of crisis. It could hardly tolerate any more the presence in its territory of the man of the October uprising, whose published writings called for the construction of the Fourth International. In Moscow also it was well understood that Trotsky must be muzzled. From February 1934 the end of the Barbizon period was being arranged in Paris, no less than in Berlin or in Moscow.
There are in fact, changes in circumstances and set-backs which the most stable and best organised mind cannot avoid, when they take place within an objective chain of events which are completely outside its control.
The first of these was the expulsion from France of Jan Frankel. He was active in the International Secretariat in Paris. Trotsky placed great confidence in him. But, on February 12, he had wanted to see with his own eyes the crowds of workers who came out, showing their pleasure at having won unity. He mingled with them, and policemen who stopped him near the Place de la Republique, noted the presence in the demonstration of a "foreigner". He was immediately expelled. This was a severe blow.
Several weeks later, worse befell. The last of the historic leaders of the Russian Left Opposition, the unbreakable Christian Rakovsky, ceased in his turn to stand firm. Trotsky felt painfully the desertion of this man, who was his personal friend and his closest co-thinker. It left him as the only one of his generation to continue the struggle. The conflict between his feelings and his judgement, his hesitation in speaking of "capitulation" or placing a gros over this great militant, can be followed in Trotsky's letters and articles.
At last, on April 17, 1934, the Council of Ministers decided to expel Trotsky himself from France. We know the more distant origins of this decision, in the furious campaign in the Nazi press, the terror of the bourgeoisie after February 12, and the echo of both in the French press, with its enraged hatred of "Bolshevism". Its immediate origins were more prosaic, though they clearly fit into the context. They lay in the rumours in the little town about these "foreigners", who lived in an unusual way, in denunciations to the police and the discrete surveillance of the local gendarmerie.
On April 12, the vigilance and patience of the latter were rewarded. Rudolf Klement was bringing the letters from Paris, on his motor-cycle, when the lights failed. This gave the police of Ponthierry the excuse to question the residents of the villa. The local authorities in this way discovered that Trotsky lived there, while the Paris authorities declared that they knew nothing about it!
The press exploded when the news reached them. Chauvinism, xenophobia and anti-semitis erupted in cries of hatred in the Paris newspapers, combined with fear inspired by the man who symbolised October and the Red Army. Hostile crowds massed outside the railings of the villa and threatened to break in, yelling hatred and incitements to murder. The police and the judicial authorities had visited Trotsky in the first days of the affair, and kept the agitation going by carefully calculated "leaks". From that point it was quite easy for the government to allege that Trotsky was "interfering in French affairs". A new decree of expulsion was signed by the Minister of the Interior, the radical Albert Sarraut.
Trotsky finally left the Barbizon house in secret on the evening of April. He left behind Jan van Heijenhoort, whose job it was to gain time by creating the impression that Trotsky was still there, and who replied calmly to the cries of hate (6). Then began a long period of wandering for the man whom no country in the world wished to receive. At that time the world had indeed become "the planet without a visa" for Trotsky.
(1) The term, "Communist Internationalist" was proposed by Alfonso Leonetti. Trotsky sharply criticised it, as a tautology. However, he did not prevail, and the title was adopted by the plenum of August 19-21, 1933. However, Trotsky was to use the title "Left Opposition" for some months afterwards.
(2) Vereecken Archives, Brussels.
(3) Silverio Corvisieri, Trotskij e il comunismo italiano, Rome, 1969.
(4) Wolfgang Alles, Zur Politik und Geschichte der deutschen Trotskisten ab 1930, Universitet Mannheim.
(5) Der Funke, November 1933.
(6) Jan van Heijenhoort, De Prinkipo à Coyoacan. Sept annees aupres de Leon Trotsky, Paris 1978.
TROTSKY, THE RISE OF NAZISM AND GERMAN-SOVIET RELATIONS Jean p.Joubert, First published in French in Cahiers Leon Trotsky, No. 36, December 1988, Translated by John Archer 1989 (8,823 words).
TROTSKY, THE RISE OF NAZISM AND GERMAN-SOVIET RELATIONS
by Jean P. Joubert
Can it be that there are eloquent silences in Trotsky's writings? The question may seem ridiculous, for, in truth, it seems difficult to trace any secrecy in them. From this point of view, the "closed" section of the Harvard archives has revealed secrets; it has disclosed lies, the reason for which can easily be understood. It leads to dossiers which had been regarded as closed being re‑opened. But it has not revealed a different personage. The fact remains, none the less, that there is in Trotsky's work a fundamental, voluntary self‑censorship. To his last breath, Trotsky remained a Soviet patriot. He never permitted himself to reveal the state secrets of the Soviet Union, about its intelligence services, its diplomacy or its armed forces, secrets which he possessed thanks to his former important responsibilities (1).
What does this censorship imply? We know the brilliant writings, in which he analysed, with a lucidity un‑paralleled at the time, the reality of the Nazi threat. We know his implacable criticism of the policy of the German Communist Party. The writings from 1930 to 1933 are on a par with the proclamations which he wrote during the Russian Revolution and the Civil War. In them Trotsky did not limit himself to analysis, but fought inch by inch, right up to the last, to try to change the policy which, he was convinced, would lead to the triumph of barbarism and to war. It was Stalin who dictated this policy. Trotsky knew this, and said so. But was Stalin "mistaken"? Was his policy the result of "mistakes"? Trotsky wrote often to this effect. But what were the roots of these mistakes. Were there not "reasons" in Stalin's policy, and, in particular, considerations of foreign policy? Trotsky has little to say on this point, and this may seem curious.
The German‑Policy of the K P D: Leftism and Nationalism
The campaign connected with the Referendum of August 9, 1931 in Prussia is without doubt the most spectacular aspect of communist policy in the years of Hitler's rise. The Referendum was held on the initiative of the Stahlhelm, an official offshoot of the Reichswehr, in order to force the dissolution of the Prussian Landtag and the dismissal of the Social‑Democratic administration. It found the Communist Party fighting against Social‑Democracy, by the side of the Nazis and the Stahlhelm.
This policy was not entirely new in 1931. Since 1928 the Communist International had been engaged in a policy of which it is hard to say whether it was "ultra‑left" or "ultra‑right" (2). The situation was characterised as "revolutionary", and Social-Democracy was re‑christened as "social‑fascist" and presented as the main enemy. This ferocious attack on Social‑Democracy was complemented by the development of highly nationalist themes. In 1929 the K.P.D. was involved in a vigorous campaign against the Young Plan. On October 16, 1929, the Central Committee published an important declaration that the question of reparations could be settled only by "the violent, Bolshevik annulment of all the robbers' treaties". The Ten‑Point declaration of the Political Bureau on June 4, 1930, followed by the "Programmatic Declaration for the National and Social Liberation of the German People" on August 24, 1930, with the elections in view, took up themes and slogans of the nationalist extreme right, to such a point that Volkischer Beobachter wrote that the German Communist Party, with its policy of "liberation", "had stolen the Nazi programme".
While the Nazi extreme right was flooding the vocabulary of politics with innumerable variations on the word "Volk,", the Communist Party adopted the slogan of "People's Revolution", which the Central Committee officially recognised in January 1931 as a strategic slogan. It abandoned all reference to class, emphasised the "realism" of its position towards war and made much of the military qualities of the proletariat and the necessity to create a Red Army (3).
The "Scheringer line" was a practical application of this orientation (4). Lieutenant Scheringer believed in the national revolution. In his search for a Fuhrer who would be able to take the leadership of a conspiracy, he had been in contact with the principal nationalist leaders, in order to find out whether they were prepared to to undertake to overthrow the government, in opposition to the dictated peace of Versailles and the policy of "fulfillment". Scheringer was arrested in March 1930 and sentenced in September to imprisonment in a fortress for a year and a half. While his trial was go on, the Communist Party leader, Heinz Neumann, had a secret meeting with Goebbels According to a rumour, Neumann appealed to Goebbels to change the orientation of the Nazi Party and to direct its violent attacks away from the Soviet Union in order to attack France. He is said to have declared that the Red Army was ready to play the role of an army of liberation in Germany, and to have insisted that the "fratricidal war" must cease.
Contacts with the Nazi chiefs went on in public at the beginning of January 1931 On January 6, Willy Muenzenberg received the S.A. leaders, Otto Strasser and Karl Otto Paetel (7) in the office of the Comintern journal, Rote Aufbau. Scheringer had had close contact in the Moabit prison in Berlin with Communist leaders who were also jailed there, and, in particular, with Hans Kurella, the chief editor of Imprekor, the journal of the Communist International. On March 18, 1931, the Communist deputy, Kippenberger, who was in charge of the military apparatus of the K.P.D., read to the Reichstag a declaration, in which Lieutenant Scheringer announced that he had joined the Communist Party "as a soldier in the front of the proletariat, ready to defend itself" (Wehrhaft). Scheringer referred to his struggle for the national and social liberation of the German people, accused the National Socialist Party of having betrayed socialism, and declared that liberation could be achieved only through an alliance with the Soviet Union and the destruction of the capitalist regime in Germany by revolutionary war to defend the proletarian fatherland against the imperialist states and the forces of intervention: "We are par excellence the party of war. We shall make war in a truly revolutionary way". (8) This declaration obviously was drafted by Kippenberger's staff. Scheringer also mentioned that the Communist fraction in the Reichstag had declared, in the debate on the military bidget, that the Communists were in favour of "improved defences" (Wehrhaftmachtung), "of all the German working people", for "a German army ready to fight and to struggle".
In July 1931 Scheringer's name was immortalised in a journal, Aufbruch, "the journal for struggle on the lines of Lieutenant Scheringer". Aufbruch brought together leading Communists such as Kippenberger, old Nazi leaders and ex‑officers including Count Stenbock-Fermor, who had taken part in the Free Corps in the Baltic countries and had earlier boasted of having shared in anti‑Bolshevik atrocities. One of the first articles in Aufbruch signed by Heinrich Kurella (Scheringer's former companion in captivity) was entitled "Communism and Nation". The Aufbruch circles organised conferences on such subjects as "The Reichswehr and the Red Army".
Trotsky against National‑Communism
On August 25, 1931, Trotsky, then in exile on Prinkipo, wrote an article significantly entitled "Against National Communism: The Lessons of the 'Red' Referendum". Oddly enough, this article was translated into French under the title "Against National‑Socialism" (9), an un‑acceptable translation, because Trotsky was arguing not against National Socialism but against the Communists' policy of concessions to the Nazis. The quotation marks around "Red" are very important. Trotsky aimed at denouncing the decision of the K.P.D. to vote with the Nazis and the Stahlhelm, by baptising as "Red" the referendum which the Nazis called "Brown", as if changing its colour changed the content of the vote. When Trotsky used the title, "Against National Communism", he was, to all appearances, going back consciously to the polemic of Radek, Lenin and Thalheimer ten years earlier against the "National Bolshevism" of the Hamburg group led by Laufenberg and Wolfheim (10).
According to Trotsky, it was fear of Nazism, since Nazism had become a mass movement, which led the K.P.D. to make "a new turn away from and to the right of the Third Period", with its policy of liberation. The K.P.D. rejected what Trotsky regarded as the only effective form of defence, the formation of the united front of the working class, which meant abandoning the theory of "social‑fascism" and "the search for agreements with diverse Social‑Democratic organisations and fractions". By doing so, the leadership of the K.P.D. was involving itself in "the most fallacious", "most dangerous" policy, consisting of "passively adapting itself to the enemy and flying his colours" and straining to out‑do him in patriotic shouting. Trotsky regarded these, not as methods and principles of class politics, but as "forms of petty bourgeois competition".
Of course, Trotsky says, every revolution is "popular" and "national" in the sense that it draws around the working class all the living forces of the nation. But this "sociological description" cannot take the place of the slogan of action. As a slogan, it is empty boasting, it is charlatanism, it is market competition with the fascists, paid for at the cost of injecting confusion into the minds of workers. The slogan of "People's Revolution" in effect wipes away the ideological frontiers between Marxism and Fascism. It reconciles part of the workers and the petty bourgeoisie to the ideology of fascism, because it permits them to believe that they do not have to make a choice, being concerned both here and there with "People's revolution".
The crime of the Stalinist bureaucracy, writes Trotsky, is that, with Scheringer's help, it solidarises itself with the nationalist elements, it identifies their voice with that of the party, it refuses to denounce their nationalist and militarist tendencies, it converts the profoundly bourgeois, reactionary, utopian, chauvinist pamphlet by Scheringer, into a new gospel for the revolutionary proletariat. It is a fact, he concludes, that the former worker, Thaelmann, does his utmost to avoid being inferior to Count Stenbock-Fermor (11.).
Trotsky did not deny the existence of a national question in Germany. But he did deny that a policy could be based upon it. He had written, on September 26, 1930, that the declaration of the Central Committee boiled down in the end to saying that, if the German proletariat took power, it would tear up the Versailles Treaty. He asked ironically: would the abrogation of the Versailles Treaty be the highest achievement of the proletarian revolution? (12) Less than a year later he again concluded his analysis of the article by Thaelmann which introduced the turn towards the "Red" Referendum:
"At the most important place in his conclusion Thaelmann puts the idea that Germany is a ball in the hands of the Entente. It is in consequence a matter of national liberation."
In Trotsky's opinion the national question is a question "of secondary importance". The policy of the Communist Party cannot be determined by the fact that Germany is a ball in the hands of the Entente, but by the "interests of the divided German proletariat", which had become "a ball in the hands of the German bourgeoisie", because it was divided.
There could be no question of replacing the class‑struggle with national unity, on the pretext of the national question. On the contrary, the policy of Communists should be in these circumstances to return to the formulation of Liebknecht, "the most dangerous enemy is in our own country". In any case, he added, the national question could not be solved by the "negative" slogan of abrogating the Treaty of Versailles, which was also the slogan of the Nazis. It called for a positive response in an international setting and could not in any case take the form of war against the West:
"The revolution is not for us a subordinate means for war against the West, but, on the contrary, a means for avoiding wars, in order to end them once and for all... The 'national liberation' of Germany lies, to our mind, not in a war with the West, but in a proletarian revolution, embracing Central as well as Western Europe, and uniting it with Eastern Europe in the form of a Soviet United States" (13).
Trotsky then mentioned the role of Stalin. "Stalin is silent", he wrote, "but this whole policy is inspired by the master of the Kremlin":
"Stalin worked through his agents in the German Central Committee and himself retired ambiguously to the rear."(13)
However, with great prudence, Trotsky did not go into Stalin's motives. However, he did hint at them. On September 30, 1930, he wrote that it was indispensable to purge the K.P.D. of the poison of national socialism, "the essential element of which is the theory of socialism in a single country". He returned to the same idea on August 25, 1931, when he wrote that it was the "genuinely Russian" theory of socialism in one country" which inevitably fostered the development of "social‑patriotic" tendencies in the other sections of the Communist International (14)
The Third Moscow Trial and Russian Foreign Policy
Stalin was the first to lift a corner of the curtain. The Third Moscow Trial unfolded in 1938, and in the course of it, what was alleged to be the treachery of Marshall Tukhachevsky and of "the bloc of the Rightists and Trotskyists" for the benefit of Germany, was denounced. According to the indictment, the investigation and the admissions of the defendants revealed that there had been collaboration in the past between Trotsky and the Reichswehr. Contact was alleged to have been established in June 1920 between Trotsky and General von Seeckt, through the agency of Kopp. During the winter of 1921‑22 discussions were said to have taken place in Berlin, which resulted in a formal agreement between Krestinsky and Generals von Seeckt and Haase. Krestinsky was said to have undertaken, on the orders of Trotsky and with the help of Rosengolts, to arrange for espionage on the territory of the Soviet Union, to get visas for spies and to provide secret information about the air forces of the Soviet Union. Seeckt was said to have undertaken in return to provide Krestinsky with 250,000 gold marks annually, to finance Trotskyist counter‑revolutionary work. This was said to have actually been paid, sometimes in Moscow and at other times in Berlin. In 1926 the Reichswehr was said to have talked of breaking this off, but Trotsky's promise to grant concessions, especially in mining if the Trotskyists got power in the U.S.S.R., enabled the collaboration to go on. The agreement was said to have become active in 1923 and to have been respected right up to autumn 1930, when Krestinsky left Berlin. In September 1933, when Krestinsky was passing through Berlin, he was supposed to have been contacted by Alfred Rosenberg, who wanted to conclude a secret deal with the Trotskyists to provide for the cession of the Ukraine to Germany. Trotsky was supposed then to have declared for collaboration with the German government and no longer only with the Reichswehr, and to have worked for a German attack on the U.S.S.R.in the hope of provoking the collapse of the Soviet government. Krestinsky was said to have met Trotsky secretly in September 1933 at Merano, in Italy, when the group of activists whose task it was to penetrate the Red Army, such as Tukhachevsky, Kork, Yuborevich and Putna, to have agreed with the idea of opening the front if the Germans attacked.
Trotsky could not remain silent in the face of this accusation. In self‑defence, he was obliged to break his self‑imposed silence about the military policy of the U.S.S.R. He could denounce several specific points in the indictment as gross falsifications (15), but he confirmed in general outline that there had been real collaboration with the Reichswehr, for which, as People's Commissar for War, he had been responsible. He only made clear that this collaboration was not collaboration between Trotskyists and the Reichswehr in order to overthrow the Soviet Government, but collaboration between the Soviet Politburo and the Reichswehr, and that Stalin could try to make him responsible for it in 1938 because it had been secret and ultra‑secret.
Trotsky in fact made clear that very few people on the Soviet side knew what was going on. He said even that many of the Politburo of 1933 would know nothing about it:
"In the secret archives of the military commissariat and the G.P.U. there should undoubtedly be documents in which the collaboration with the Reichswehr is mentioned, in the most guarded and conspiratorial terms. Except to people like Stalin, Molotov, Bukharin, Rykov, Rakovsky, Rosengolts, Yagoda and another dozen or so of individuals, the contents of these documents may well seem 'enigmatic', not merely to prosecutor Vishinsky, who at that time was in the camp of the Whites, but likewise to several members of the present Politburo."(16)
Trotsky explains that the collaboration began effectively when he was Commissar for War. Stalin knew about it because he was a member of the Politburo, and the policy went ahead under Stalin's direction, because he was one of its most devoted supporters, even after Hitler had come to power.
Trotsky explains that when this policy, which was kept secret on both sides because it was carried out in violation of the Versailles Treaty, was introduced under his leadership, the Soviet Government was seeking a "defensive alliance" with Germany against the Entente and the Versailles Treaty. Social‑Democracy was playing an essential role in Germany at that time. It feared Moscow and placed all its hopes on London and Washington. The Reichswehr caste, on the other hand, despite its hostility to Communism, regarded as necessary a military and diplomatic collaboration with the Soviet Republic. Trotsky did not think that he had to describe the form of the collaboration in detail. None the less, he made clear that Germany could develop the forbidden armaments and training in this way in Russia, while Russia enjoyed the benefit of the development of German military technique. The collaboration included heavy artillery, aviation and chemical warfare. Russian war industry was "open to German experience"; "concessions" were awarded on Russian territory, especially to the aeronautical firm Junkers. They involved the entry into the U.S.S.R. of numbers of German officers, while officers of the Red Army visited Germany. Trotsky adds that, under his direction, this collaboration did not "yield many results", essentially because both the Germans and the Russians were short of capital and also because they mistrusted each other. However, Trotsky did not say a word about the existence of common strategic aims.
German ‑ Soviet Collaboration
Subsequent research essentially confirms Trotsky's 1938 version (17). None the less, it is clear that, when he placed his main emphasis only on the material aspects of this collaboration between the Reichswehr and the new‑born Soviet state, he played down considerably what it implied in strategic and political terms, following the first World War and the Versailles Treaty, with the intersection of the interests of the German army and the Soviet state.
We are concerned here with collaboration between the German army and the Soviet government. We are not dealing with any collaboration between the German army and the Red army, as Western commentators too often write, curiously accepting the Stalinist allegation in the Moscow Trials of military collaboration committing the two armies. This distinction is important. Of course, we are essentially dealing with military collaboration affecting both armies. Development of weapons and of German training camps in the U.S.S.R., training technical personnel and exchanging officers at the highest level, imply common strategic objectives. But on the German side, the Reichswehr was operating in secrecy, not merely in relation to the victor powers of Versailles but to its own government. Some German politicians were well informed, and concealed the complicated financial operations necessary to finance the purchases of the Reichswehr. But the policy of the General Staff of the German army was an independent one. On the Russian side, on the contrary, the operations were carried out on the initiative of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. To this day, nothing has come to light, to our knowledge, to give the slightest support to the central thesis of the Moscow Trial about the Russian army acting independently, or, a fortiori, about independent activity conducted in connection with Trotsky.
It was General Seeckt who, after the first world war, involved the Reichswehr in a policy very different from that of his predecessors, Ludendorff, von der Golz and Hoffmann. He gave up the white counter‑revolution against Bolshevism, accepted the Weimar Republic, refused to march in support of the Kapp putsch, and resolutely advocated a military alliance with the U.S.S.R., which he did not consider to be in contradiction with the struggle against Communism in Germany. The first documents to establish Seeckt's new orientation with certainty date from February 1920. His thesis could not be more clearly formulated. Germany must win back her position as a world power. She could not do so without first having recovered the military apparatus of which the victors deprived her. She had to achieve this in a European context characterised by the domination of France. In the eyes of von Seeckt, the policy to be followed was dictated by geography, maps and the relation of forces. Germany could win back the position of a great power only by an alliance with the U.S.S.R. This alone could be a counterweight to French and British interests. Germany needed a strong Russia, whatever her political regime might be. German policy would be the same towards Russia whether she were ruled by the Tsar, by Kolchak or by Denikin. The sole strategic aim was to recover a common frontier with Russia, and to wipe out the "succession" states constructed by the victors at Versailles to erect a wall between Germany and Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia. The destruction of Poland, the pillar of the French continental system, was a vital question for Germany, whose aim must be to recover the 1914 frontiers. Von Seeckt repeated this in 1922, at the moment when he refused (though only for short-term reasons) to consider common action with Russia. The existence of Poland was intolerable and incompatible with the survival of Germany. Poland must disappear as the result of its own internal weaknesses, thanks to Russia and with the help of Germany. Again in 1933 Seeckt summed up his conclusions, in a pamphlet: he showed that for centuries the policy of France had consisted of advancing into the East and, by the interposition of Poland, of compelling Germany always to fight on two fronts: he advised those responsible for German policy to take care in all circumstances to secure that freedom of their rear which only solid friendship with Russia could ensure.
It can, therefore, be said that from 1920 to 1933 and even beyond it was the common denomination of Poland, much more than the need of Germany to re‑arm with Russian help, which was the primary motive of the Reichswehr chiefs. The weakness of Russian industry and the difficulty of finding capital would in fact make technical collaboration difficult, and would mean that numerous projects would only be partially completed.
The foreign policy of the German government fluctuated, oscillating between the policy of Rapallo and that of rapprochement with the victors, marked by entering the League of Nations, by the Locarno Treaty and by the pro‑Western policy of Stresemann. Meanwhile, the policy of the Reichswehr did not waver an inch. It is true that von Seeckt had to give up his positions in 1926, and that his departure was the occasion for a formal attack on the Reichswehrpolitik by the Social‑Democrats. However, the later statements by General von Hammerstein, who had been involved from the beginning with Generals von Blomberg and von Schleicher in the secret collaboration and were responsible for continuing it from 1933 to 1934, is quite definite. Von Seeckt's Russian policy was continued unchanged after his departure. The Reichswehr succeeded even in following this policy after Hitler came to power. For several months, in fact, Hitler continued to place confidence in the military, and we have to wait until the middle of the year 1933 for Hitler to take the initiative which put an end to the Reichswehrpolitik (18).
The Reichswehrpolitik intersected with the policy of the Soviet Union. The new, post-1919 Poland was a greater threat to Russia than to Germany. In Spring 1920 Pilsudski launched his attack in the direction of Kiev, while France occupied Frankfurt. On August 16, 1920 the counter‑offensive of the Red Army was checked in front of Warsaw. Despite the contacts which had already been made (19), the military weakness of the Red Army and the non‑existence of the Reichswehr prevented the two forces from joining up, and demonstrated that the two armies had to be reconstructed before there could be any strategic alliance. If Germany and Russia were to ally their forces, then they could try to break open the grip of the Entente and to crush the arrogance of Poland. Once again, in 1923, it seems probable that only the threat of German intervention paralysed Poland, and prevented her from taking advantage of the French occupation of the Ruhr to lay hands on Upper Silesia.
The Russians carefully guarded the secret of the collaboration, but Lenin made no mystery of the motives which inspired it. At the Eighth Congress of the Soviets in December 1920, he explained that the German bourgeoisie was obliged, particularly by the Versailles Treaty, to seek an alliance with Russia. Lenin's foreign policy was essentially a defensive one. He attached little importance to territorial gains, but showed himself to be above all concerned to make the economic connections necessary to the development of Russian industry, and, on the level of strategy, to disrupt the front of the capitalist powers and to gain time, while awaiting the European revolution and its vanguard, the German revolution. On this level there was complete agreement between Lenin and Trotsky.
It was, no doubt, not always easy to reconcile help to the revolutionary struggle with agreements between states. In 1923, therefore, the trade in arms with the Reichswehr continued while the German army was employed in repressing the workers' insurrection.
The Russians were realists: it was clearly understood that revolution is not exported on the points of bayonets . The searing experience with Poland was rich in lessons on this point.' In 1923 Trotsky had to mention this rule again, and to repeat that it was out of the question for the Soviet Union to come out militarily to the aid of the German revolution.(20) In an advanced country, he explained, the revolution can conquer only if it can find sufficient forces on the national soil. For all that, taking account of the interests of the Soviet state did not yet imply subordinating the revolutionary struggle to the diplomatic and military interests of the Soviet Union. This is precisely what changed in the years 1924 ‑ 25.
The K. p.D. and Soviet Foreign Policy
Nothing but the opening of the Soviet archives will enable this still‑forbidden zone of historiography to be illuminated. However, we must note that there are some disturbing coincidences. Considerations of Soviet foreign policy seem to have greater and greater weight: the coincidence between the tactic of the K.P.D. and the Soviet diplomatic game cannot be ignored as the K.P.D. became more and more closely subordinated to Stalin (21).
It is clear that neither the Russian nor the German Communists had any reason to love Social‑Democracy. The revolution had drawn a line of blood between them and the socialists. In Russia, Social‑Democracy had opposed Soviet power arms in hand. In Germany Social‑Democracy was deeply involved in the assassination of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, and civil war had divided Socialists from Communists.
More precise considerations came to supplement these historical and sentimental points. In Germany Social‑Democracy was more hostile to collaboration with Russia than any other party. Several times Socialist deputies had used the Reichstag as a platform to denounce the military collaboration of the Reichswehr with the Red Army, for example, Hermann Muller in 1922 and Schiedmann in 1926. They obliged the Soviets to hide their collaboration still more deeply (22).
The S.P.D. was the only German party to have a policy frankly oriented towards the West, where the member‑parties of the Second International were dominant. It favored a German policy of abandoning resistance, of seeking compromise with the victors of Versailles; this took form in the policy of Stresemann, the Locarno Treaty and the Dawes and Young Plans.
Gustav Hilger, who held a strategic position in the German embassy in Moscow for twenty years, has recorded how much more intense was the hatred of the Russians for Social-Democracy than their hostility to bourgeois or feudal reaction. He has shown that the Kremlin worked hard to prevent the establishment of a Socialist government in Germany. Chicherin and Litvinov even discussed openly with the German diplomats the need to keep the S.P.D. out of public affairs (23).
It is possible that already in 1925 the intervention of Stalin was decisive in the policy which enabled Hindenburg to be elected President of the Republic. In any case, his election pleased Stalin. He regarded it as a sign that Germany was resisting the Versailles powers (24). We must say that at this time the German Socialists, who were formally in opposition, but who ruled in Prussia, supported the idea of a security pact, which was finally signed at Locarno in October 1925, in concert with the "Left Bloc" in France and with the Labour Party in Britain.
Moscow mobilised all its resources against the Western orientation of Germany which the Social‑Democrats advocated. The efforts of Soviet diplomats had little effect, and it seems likely that the K.P.D. was mobilised to serve this purpose. The 1928 Congress of the Communist International was followed by an important intervention from Moscow, which imposed on the K.P.D. an intransigeant struggle against Social‑Democracy and a violent, nationalist campaign against any rapprochement with the Western powers and against the Young Plan, against which agitation developed in autumn 1929 and during the winter (25). In 1931 it was Moscow that reached the deliberate decision to co‑operate with the Nazis and with the Reichswehr‑controlled Stahlhelm in order to drive the Social‑Democratic government out of office in Prussia (26). At the same moment, on June 24, 1931, an agreement was signed in Moscow prolonging the German‑Russian Treaty of 1926 and the convention of 1929.
As a whole, the re‑doubled violence of the K.P.D. towards Social‑Democracy and use of nationalistic themes seem to be quite consistent with Stalin's ".purely Russian strategy", organised in Germany round the Reichswehr and certain sectors of heavy industry. Stalin was attached to this alliance because it dealt essentially with a military agreement aimed against the very real threat from Poland. The fact remains that, in this strategy, the reality of the Nazi danger was for Stalin a factor of the second or third order. He was convinced, in fact, that the leaders of the "pro‑Russian party", Generals Blomberg, von Hammerstein and von Scleicher, would be able to keep the Nazis in check. He was to retain this illusion, it seems, for several months after Hitler took power.
Trotsky: An Alternative Foreign Policy?
'We can easily understand why Trotsky said nothing about the secret collaboration with the Reichswehr. In full agreement with Lenin, he had been chiefly responsible for this policy, which was put into effect by his direct collaborators, Kopp, Rosengolts and Rakovsky.
But the Nazi menace profoundly modified the disposition of forces. At the end of 1931, it was necessary to "sound the alarm" in the face of the probable consequences of a Nazi victory. Trotsky explained that this would mean the extermination of the elite of the German proletariat, the destruction of the Communist International in a repetition of August 4, 1914, and war against the U.S.S.R. In the face of such danger military and diplomatic deals were of no avail. Nothing but general mobilisation could save the situation. Once again, here was the former chief of the Red Army speaking. He addressed the militants of the German Communist Party, the Social‑Democratic workers and the non-party workers, not merely because what was at stake went far beyond Germany alone. He wrote that Germany was not only Germnny, but the heart of Europe: Hitler was not only Hitler, but a "super‑Wrangel", who could come to power only at the end of a pitiless civil war: the Red Army was not only the Red Army, but "the instrument of the world proletarian revolution".
His proposals were clear: the attempt of the fascists to take power must result in the mobilisation of the Red Army. He returned to this question in Spring 1932, in an interview aimed at the American public but also at the opponents of Stalin, who were organising. He stressed that the German attack on the Soviet Union if the Nazis won in Germany would be merciless, nor did he hesitate to say "what he would do", if he were in the place of the Soviet government. As soon as Hitler came to power, convinced that he faced a situation which could be resolved only by war, he would sign the order for general mobilisation, with the purpose of not giving Hitler time to establish and to strengthen himself, to make alliances, to get the support he needed and to draw up a plan of military aggression, "not merely in the East but in the West". He added that it was of no importance to know who would formally take the initiative in armed combat, because a war between the Hitlerite state and the Soviet state would be inevitable and would break out quickly.
But he went no further. He did not say a word about the Reichswehrpolitik, though it is clear that he believed that this policy was no longer relevant, and that the preparation of the U.S.S.R. for war involved a search for other military alliances. The coming to power of Hitler can only have strengthened him in his convictions. None the less, in Spring 1933, he was in fact isolated in a completely un‑real picture. In Berlin, the Reichswehrpolitik did not yet seem to be called into question. In May 1933 Hitler repeated to his ambassador, von Dirksen, his desire to pursue good relations with Russia, on condition that the latter did not interfere in the internal affairs of Germany. In Berlin von Dirksen saw many people, Hindenburg, Goring, Goebbels and Frick. When he returned to Moscow, he told his collaborators that the Nazi government wanted to stabilise its relations with Russia. Meanwhile Hitler was playing a pacifist comedy on the other front, to catch the ear of Britain and to isolate France. Again Trotsky warned the Soviet leaders, but also those of the `Western democracies. They would be mistaken if they were reassured by Hitler's moderation. While it was true that he wanted above all to march against the Soviet Union, the fact still remained that "the weapons which could be used against the East could just as well be used against the West".
A Return to the U.S.S.R.?
The evidence which continues to be absent from the history books will indeed one day have to receive notice. Trotsky was alone in his time in seeing correctly what the Soviet and Western leaders could not see. The policy which he advocated in 1931 was to be that which Stalin was obliged to operate amid catastrophe and at the cost of millions of lives, when the German divisions spread out over the plains of the Ukraine, only a few months after the Reichswehrpolitik was realised and Poland disappeared from the map. The map had also to be cleared of the Western democracies and there had to be years of the brown plague for the strategic alliance contained in Trotsky's 1‑31 analysis to be realised in the entry of U.S.A. into the war.
Was Trotsky a "Prophet Dis‑Armed"? To be sure, the formula is seductive, but it has the weakness of those who conceive history in terms of accomplished facts. In reality, it is likely that several questions have to be re‑examined, beginning with this one: Does the return of Trotsky to the U.S.S.R. have to be regarded as science‑fiction? The documents in the file that we have to go on are not yet very numerous, but they occupy a certain space.
We have Trotsky's secret letter to the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, dated March 13, 1933, in which he expresses his sincere intention of co‑operating with every tendency in the face of such a great danger. Would he have written this letter if he had not had several good reasons to expect that it would receive an echo in the Soviet leadership? Can it possibly be reduced to the level of a mere propaganda exercise? (27) We also have the various rumours that were floating about Europe, that, for example, in the German liberal journal, Vossische Zeitung, which had passed into Nazi control. This suggested that Trotsky might return to the U.S.S.R. Anyway, the rumour acquired enough substance for the important Paris daily, Paris‑Soir, to send the journalist, Georges Simenon, to Prinkipo, to put the question to Trotsky (28): "Some newspapers have claimed that you have recently received emissaries from Moscow with instructions to demand that you return to Russia." Simenon pressed the point: "Would you resume active service?" He wrote: "He replied 'yes' with a movement of the head". At the end of June 1933 the Soviet press agency TASS denied the rumours: its declaration was, no doubt, a reply to German questions as to the possibility of a turn in Soviet foreign policy.
These rumours show that the question of Trotsky's return to the U.S.S.R. was raised not only by him but also by Berlin and Moscow. Was the same question likewise posed in Paris? The file about the visa which the Daladier accorded to Trotsky is far from being closed. What is established is that Trotsky himself did not believe that the French government could possibly take this course. He wrote to his translator, Parijanin, "I can hardly imagine that the French government will give me a visa, especially at this moment, when it is seeking unity with Stalin."(29) The French government could hardly have been unaware of the rumours which found their way even into the big newspapers about the isolation of Stalin and the impact of Trotsky's articles on leading circles in Russia. What were the political considerations, if there were any, which impelled the government of the Radical, Daladier, the man of confidence of the French General Staff, to grant this visa?
Finally, there are two elements essential for the file which are due to the discoveries of Pierre Broué about the Bloc of the Oppositions and about what we know of the assassination of Kirov in December 1934. Pierre Broué has demonstrated that there was a regroupment of the oppositions against Stalin operating in the U.S.S.R. in 1932, and that this regroupment was in secret communication with Trotsky (30).
We also have strong grounds for believing that in December 1934 Kirov was assassinated by Stalin, after he had made contact with Trotsky in order to consider in what conditions Trotsky might return to the U.S.S.R.(31). None of these documents, to be sure, is conclusive, but none the less there emerges from them a hypothesis, that the Soviet leadership was much less homogeneous than the picture which many Kremlinologues present, and that the temptation to recall the former head of the Red Army and to realise national unity against the danger of Nazism was strong. These leaders did more than think about this solution: they began to take action, and paid with their lives. In any case, there can be no doubt that the coming years will make new contributions, probably from Moscow itself, to this file.
(1) We are not dealing here with Russian patriotism, but with patriotism towards a state which Trotsky believed, despite its profound degeneration, to be a "workers' state" and a form, though doubtless the worst possible, of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
(2) Neumann entered the Politburo of the K.P.D. in 1928. He was the incarnation of the new ultra‑left, nationalist orientation. Perhaps thanks to his perfect knowledge of the Russian language he found himself accepted by Stalin as an intimate. He played an essential part in elimination, on Stalin's behalf, the team of Maslov and Ruth Fischer, which was linked to Zinoviev. He can also be regarded as the "eminence gris" of the new leadership of the K.P.D. under Ernst Thalmann.
(3) See Dupeux G., "National‑Socialisme, strategie communiste et dynamique conservatrice", Paris 1919.
(4) Scheringer was charged with making propaganda for national‑socialism in the army and having supported an activity consisting of high treason aimed at changing the Constitution of the Reich. General Groener, the Reichswehr Minister and a personal friend of von Schleicher went on record in support of punishment. The Scheringer trial took place through September 1930 in Leipsig. Hitler was called as a witness and played the comedy of legality. The President of the tribunal took note that the witness Hitler, since 1923 has never acted but in a legal way, and that he did not tolerate subversion in the Reichswehr. During the trial the militant national‑socialist crowd shouted, "Long Live the National‑Socialist Reichswehr". In Scheringer's eyes, Hitler had betrayed the cause of the national revolution when he took the oath of legality. See J. p.Faye, Langages Totalitaires, Paris 1972.
(5) He also met General Reinhard, one of the strong men of the two marches on Berlin, the Noske march and the Kapp Putsch, then the heads of the Stahlhelm and then those of the S.A.
(6) According to J. p.Faye, Langages Totalitaires, p.544, Goebbels was 'known to favour a German‑Russian alliance. On October 1, 1925 appeared the first issue of "N.S. Letters" (NS.Briefe) ("National‑Socialist Letters"). The second issue carried Goebbels' "Letter to my friend of the left", under the headline, "National‑Socialism or Bolshevism", in which he wrote that "you and I are fighting without really being enemies". No. 4 of this journal published a third article by Goebbels, on the "Russian question"; it suggested that it was in the alliance with a "genuinely national and socialist" Russia that we recognise "the beginning of our own national and socialist self‑affirmation".
(7) J. p.Faye, op. cit., p.420.
(8) Dupeux, op. cit., p.567.
(9) The Struggle against Fascism in Germany, Pathfinder, New York, 1971, p.93, under the title "Against National Communism (Lessons of the 'Red Referendum)".
(10) In 1919 Laufenberg, an old socialist influenced by Lassalle, an anti‑militarist who had been close to Liebknecht during the war, who had come over to Communism and was chairman of the Hamburg Workers' council during the 1918 revolution and was the devoted supporter of the councils, which he counter‑posed to the party, began to develop an ultra‑nationalist line; this was labelled "National‑Bolshevik" and stood for transforming the revolution into a "revolutionary war". He supported the idea of renewing the war in the West against the Versailles Treaty, by beginning with an offensive on the East in order to effect union with the Red
Army. At the same time he ceased entirely to talk about "class" and placed the word "People" in the centre of his vocabulary, explaining that it was necessary to unite the whole people for the war. In the end he effected contact with the nationalist circles.
Thalheimer and Radek undertook the polemic against the Hamburg group. In Radek's open letter to the Heidelberg Congress of the K.P.D. (October 1919) which excluded Laufenberg, written from prison, he declared that, in certain conditions, it was conceivable that the Communist Party could have contacts with "loyally nationalist" officers, but that, on the contrary, there could be no place in its ranks for a tendency which, under the mask of radical Communism, "transformed foreign policy into a national policy and placed the interests of the Nation above that of the classes. This would be a new version of the "sacred union", out of which could come nothing but "a petty bourgeois rationalist party".
In May 1920, Lenin attacked the "ridiculous absurdities" of the "National‑Bolshevism" of Laufenberg and others" who wanted to propose a bloc with the German bourgeoisie in order to re‑commence the war against the Entente within the framework of the international proletarian revolution. ("Left‑Wing Communism", in Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31, p.75). Lenin argued that the national problem could not be erected to the position of an absolute rule. To fix liberation from the Versailles Treaty as the first task was "petty‑bourgeois nationalism". The aim was to overthrow the bourgeoisie in "every great European country", an overthrow which would be such an advantage to the international revolution that "we could and, if necessary,should agree to prolong the existence of the Versailles peace". (Ibid., p.76‑7)
In Lenin's opinion, as in that of Radek, it was not a question of involving oneself in military adventures against the Treaty of Versailles and still less that of abandoning the class struggle in order to do so. There can be no doubt that Trotsky shared this appreciation at the time. This critique of "National-Bolshevism" formed an integral part of the heritage of the K.P.D., which was formed precisely in a split from the "Lefts" of the K.A.P.D., of which Laufenberg became one of the leaders. Ten years later, this was the critique to which Trotsky returned in opposition to the leadership of the K.P.D., which had adopted a policy closely resembling that which Laufenberg had advocated in 1919.
(11) Following this document, Count Stenbock‑Fermor wrote a letter to Trotsky, which shows that the latter had an obviously incorrect appreciation of Count Stenbock-Fermor. The text of this letter is reproduced, in French, in Cahiers Leon Trotsky, No. 36, p.51ff.
(12) The Struggle against Fascism, p.71, entitled, "The Turn in the Communist International".
(13) Ibid., p.106, entitled, "Against National‑Communism".
(14) Ibid., p.106.
(15) He proved that he had not had the material possibility of meeting Krestinsky in 1933 and declared that there had been no meeting between Sedov and Rosengolts at Karlsbad in 1933, and that he himself had not seen Marshall Tukhachevsky since 1925. See Leon Trotsky Writings (1937 ‑ 38), p.236ff, under the title, "Moscow's Diplomatic Plans and the Trials". The preparation of the trial had coincided with a period in which Moscow's hopes in the Popular Front were vanishing and in a block of the democratic powers likewise. (Dated March 8, 1938)
(16) Ibid., p.210ff, under the title "The Secret Alliance with Germany" and dated March 3, 1938 .
(17) These researches are based essentially on the papers of General von Seeckt, who headed the Reichswehr from March 1920 to October 1926. He was the inspiration of the pro‑Soviet policy of the German army, a policy which was continued without significant change after General von Seeckt was removed. The French and Polish secret service materials which Castellan has analysed provide useful contributions. The balance‑sheet of the investigation is drawn by F. L. Carsten, in Survey, October 1962, Vol. 19, "The Reichswehr and the Red Army".
See also E. H. Carr, "Socialism in One Country", Vol. 3, p.1,010ff.
(18) At the end of the month of April 1933, the Soviet ambassador Khinchuk was received by Goring, and then by Hitler, who assured him that nothing had changed in the relations between the two countries. See, in particular, Jacques Grunewald, "L'evolution des relations germano‑sovietiques de 1933 a 1936", in Les Relations Germano‑Sovietiques de 1933 a 1939, Paris 1954, pp.7‑42.
(19) According to E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, p.324, an unpublished text by Reibnitz, written towards 1940, communicated to Carr by Gustav Hilger, reports that Reibnitz had negotiated with Radek and Kopp for the German free corps to advance through East Prussia up to the old German frontier when the Red Army entered Warsaw. According to the confessions of Krestinsky at the Third Moscow Trial von Seeckt was in contact with Kopp at that time in July 1920.
See also the letter to von Seeckt of Enver Pasha of August 26, 1920: "I have spoken to the really important personage, Trotsky. We have here a party which possesses real strength, and Trotsky, who is a member of it, wants an agreement with Germany. The party would be prepared to recognise the old 1914 frontier of Germany. In order to help the Russians, see could raise an army of volunteers or provoke an insurrection, perhaps in the Corridor or in an appropriate place."
(20) Leon Trotsky, September 30, 1923, "Conversation with the American Senator King", Izvestia, 30 September, 1923:
"We do not intervene in foreign civil wars, that is perfectly clear. We could only intervene by declaring war on Poland. But we do not want war. We do not hide our sympathy for the German working class in its heroic struggle for its liberation. To be more precise and frank, I would say: if we could give victory to the German revolution without risking entering a war, we would do our utmost. But we do not want war. War would damage the German revolution. Only the revolution which succeeds thanks to its own strength can survive, especially when a great country is concerned'".
(21) It is difficult to accept on this point the explanation which Fernando Claudin gives in La Crise du Mouvement Communiste, Paris, 1972, p.189. He correctly mentions that the blindness of the Communist International to the rise of Hitler cannot be explained solely as the result of an accumulation of mistakes, as Dimitrov claimed at the 7th Congress, but Claudin draws the conclusion that we are dealing here with a profound sickness: "Atrophy of theoretical faculties, bureaucratisation of organisational faculties, sterilising monolithism, unconditional subordination to the manoeuvres of the Stalinist camarilla."
These factors are far from being negligible, but we have to recognise that the "manoeuvres of the Stalinist camarilla" possess a logic which was not governed merely by the atrophy of their faculties, real though that was. Thomas Weingartner, Stalin and der Aufsteig Hitlers, Berlin 1970, thinks that considerations of foreign policy have an essential weight in this analysis.
(22) E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, p.435.
(23) Walter Laquer, Russia and Germania, London, 1965, pp. 135 ‑ 6. We should add that it was at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International that the distinction which had been drawn at the Fourth Congress between fascism and bourgeois democracy became blurred. The theses of the Fifth Congress stated that "the more bourgeois society decomposes, above all the bourgeois parties and the Social Democracy especially, take on a more or less fascist character." It was shortly after the Fifth Congress (June ‑ July, 1924 that Stalin deepened still further the formulae of Zinoviev about social‑democracy and fascism: "Objectively Social‑Democracy constitutes the moderate wing of fascism" (Stalin: Oeuvres, Vol. 6, pp.296‑299.We should note that Trotsky dates the theory of social‑fascism from 1928, while the first elements of it incontestably were earlier.
(24) Stalin, Oeuvres, Vol. 7, p.100.
(25) Beloff, The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia: 1929 ‑ 1941, p.62.
(26) It was no doubt to cover this policy that Pravda published on July 2, 1931, a forgery intended to "prove" that Trotsky was an ally of Pilsudski and a defender of the Versailles Treaty against the U.S.S.R. and Germany. See Trotsky, Writings: 1937 ‑ 38, p.281ff, under the title "Moscow's Diplomatic Plans and the Trials".
(28) Trotsky, interview with Georges Simenon, in Francis Lacassin and Gilbert Sigaux. Simenon, Paris, 1973, pp.309‑320.
(29) In Spring 1933, faced with the danger from Hitler, the French Government pressed on with the efforts which it had begun in 1932, in view of the reality that Germany was re‑arming, with the aim of an agreement with the U.S.S.R. The first object of this was to break the links which had united Germany and the Soviet Union since Rapallo. The longer‑term problem was to revive the old system of French defence, based on the Franco‑Russian alliance, in view of the fragility of Poland and the Little Entente. The U.S.S.R. was under threat in the Far East, and accepted a Franco‑Soviet Non‑Aggression Pact proposed by Herriot in 1932. The Russian concern was above all to cover the Western frontier so as not to be threatened with a war on two fronts.
(30) Pierre Broué, "Trotsky and the Bloc of the Oppositions", Cahiers Leon Trotsky, No. 5, 1980, pp.5-38, and Pierre Broué, "Re‑Groupment Against Stalin in the U.S.S.R.", in Trotsky, Paris, 1988, pp.700‑712.
(31) J. J. Joubert, "The Kirov Affair began in 1934", in Cahiers Leon Trotsky, No. 20, December 1984, pp.79‑93.
HISTORICAL NOTES ON THE STRUGGLE TO FOUND THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL 1934-1938 April 1934 to September 1935
By Pierre Broué
Extracts from the French-language text of introductions to Leon Trotsky: Oeuvres
Volumes Four to Eighteen
First published in English 1987
The materials which are presented in the series of publications of which this is one have been translated from the original French of the introductions to volumes four, five and six of the recently-published French-language edition of Leon Trotsky Oeuvres.
The English-language series of which the present texts form part has been prepared in order to present to the English-speaking public the contents of the introductions to the successive volumes of the Oeuvres.
The French edition of the Oeuvres themselves is the most complete and up-to-date source for Trotsky's huge output of political articles, letters and other statements during the later years of his exile from the USSR, between 1933 and his murder in 1940. It includes, in addition to new translations of many pieces which were already known, a substantial number of pieces which have only recently come to light.
This French-language edition has been published by the "Institut Leon Trotsky" under the editorial supervision of Professor Pierre Broué of the University at Grenoble, who has introduced each successive volume with an account of the central events in the world Labour Movement, in the life and work of Trotsky, and in the various elements of the international movement which he inspired.
The volumes of the Oeuvres and in chronological order up to volume 24, after which it is proposed to publish a second series of the Oeuvres covering the period from 1928, his exile in Alma Ata, to the call for the construction of the Fourth International in 1933, and further, supplementary volumes, based on the contents of the formerly "Closed" archives at Harvard, for 1933 - 1935.
The introductions, which have been drafted mainly by Professor Broué himself, present a better background to Trotsky's work and to the activity of his partisans in the years 1933 to 1940 than has been available before.
Each volume presents about three-months' output from Trotsky's pen. The present pamphlet contains translations of the introductions to the volumes which contain the writings from April 1934 to September 1935.
Enquiries about the Oeuvres and about their companion publication, the periodical Cahiers Leon Trotsky, should be addressed direct to M. J.-J. Joubert, C.L.T., 2 rue Bayard, 38000, Grenoble, France.
Translated by the late John Archer. Introduction by him 1987
The Introduction to
Leon Trotsky: Oeuvres
by Pierre Broué and Michel Dreyfus
APRIL 1934 - DECEMBER 1934
The decision of the French Government, on April 17, 1934, to expel Trotsky marked an important change in the exile's life. Between his arrival in Turkey in February 1929 and his leaving for France in July 1933, he had enjoyed conditions which favoured intellectual work, though he suffered from his physical isolation from the centres of the political decisions and the life of his international organisation. His stay at St. Palais, from July to October 1933, and then at Barbizon from November 1933 to April 1934, had offered him a situation which, from this viewpoint, was more favourable. At St. Palais he had been able to have discussions with the leaders of organisations which were breaking away from the Second and Third Internationals, and to lay the basis for preparatory work for the Fourth International, by means of the Declaration of Four and then of the Bloc of Four. He had been able to go regularly and frequently from Barbizon to Paris, where he met other political militants, took part in meetings of the International Secretariat and even, in December, in that of the pre-conference of the "Four". Finally, in February 1934 he could follow closely the intervention of the French Communist League in the political crisis opened by the riots of February 6.
The expulsion changed everything. To be sure, it remained on the level of principle. Trotsky was only formally expelled. He was not physically expelled, because no government in the world would consent to give him asylum. There would have been widespread protest if the French Government had decided to intern him, to say nothing of the legal problems which such a decision would raise. The Minister of the Interior did not want to risk being attacked by the Right or by the Communist Party, for being excessively indulgent to the man whose activities and so-called "intrigues" they both were denouncing and whose freedom of action he fully intended to restrict in his own interests. The conditions which Trotsky was forced to accept were therefore severe. While he was waiting for a visa for some other country - which he might or might not get - he was to go to ground, a long way away from either Paris or a frontier, and was rigorously to avoid any militant activity.The house at Lagny in the department of Seine-et-Marne,
where he took refuge after the Barbizon affair, was judged to be too near to the capital, and the police requested him to find a somewhat more remote refuge.
Of course, it is not easy to hide in the provinces in France.Everyone knows everyone
else's business and at the best of times newcomers are the object of great curiosity. None the less, friends who offered their help were not lacking. Dommanget, the former leader of the Unitary Federation of Teachers, alerted his comrades. At that time they were considering several successive refuges. The first would have been at Saint-Boil, in Saone-et-Loire, at the house of the teacher, Jean Aulas, but when Trotsky visited the place, in company with Raymond Molinier, he decided that the house would be difficult, if not impossible, to defend against an armed attack by a small group, as was always possible. Then the teacher, Gilbert Serret, offered him lodging in the Ardeche, but the departmental prefect vetoed that, because it would be in a publicly-owned school building. At the end of April 1934, Trotsky began a real time of wandering.
He left Lagny by car with Jean Meichler, and went to stay incognito in a pension at Chamonix. Here he was joined by Natalia, van Heijenhoort and Raymond Molinier, but he was recognised, and had to move on. On May 10 he was installed at Le Tronche in a family guest-house with Natalia, armed with false documents in the name of "Lanis" (1), accompanied by van Heijenhoort, who passed as their nephew. Then they had to move again, as before for reasons of security and his incognito, and the couple stayed at St. Pierre-de-Chartreuse, with Raymond Molinier and his companion, Vera Lanis... but not for long, because the prefect of the Isere did not want him staying in a commune where the mayor was of the Right. Again Trotsky went off, on June 15, this time with no pre-determined objective.There were a few days at Grenoble in a hotel with Raymond Molinier, and then at Lyons, again in a hotel, with van Heijenhoort. Fortunately this precarious situation soon ended; finally a safe haven presented itself, on July 10. The teacher Laurent Beau, forewarned by Dommanget, agreed to house Trotsky in his house at Domene, not far from Grenoble. Henri Molinier negotiated with the prefect of the department of the Isere, M. Susini, the conditions for his staying there under the "special supervision" of a police inspector named Gagneux: no visits, no contacts, supervision of his correspondence. Trotsky was soon to find - to his great annoyance - that the authorities also were counting on the link between his host and the prefect, both of whom were freemasons, to supplement these measures of "neutralisation".
The conditions in which Trotsky was living made work extremely difficult, if not impossible, until he was installed at Domene. They improved there, though, to be sure,
his Diary in Exile shows that he regarded himself as a prisoner and even treated his host roughly, wondering whether he was not at the same time his jailer. His temper was understrain and was worsened by his disastrous financial situation. It is always difficult to share a dwelling, and the atmosphere was often strained. He no longer had his archives to hand, nor had he any of his permanent collaborators with him. None the less, he managed to effect a breach in the encircling ring. Henri Molinier got the prefect - a freemason - to agree to visits from a young lecturer in Grenoble, a socialist, Alexis Bardin, likewise a freemason. Two of this man's brothers were members of the Communist League in Paris. He agreed at once to visit Trotsky and, for family reasons, to carry letters to him, but he was soon engaged in this and other duties as a militant when Trotsky took him in hand and won him over. Thanks to this go-between, Trotsky could intervene in the trade union movement in the region, inspiring and often even drafting motions for the departmental unions of the CGT, of the administrative commission of which Bardin was a member. This was not to be his only contact. The friendship of Laurent Beau opened the house at Domene to another militant teacher, like him a former member of the Communist Party. His name was Raoul Faure, and through him a meeting was organised in August at Noyarey between Trotsky and the leaders of the Unitary Teachers' Federation, on their return from their congress at Montpelier. Thereafter some little strategems were able to succeed, thanks to what was really the complicity of the Beau family. For example, visitors arrived concealed in the van that delivered the bread. Van Heijenhoort could sometimes stay with the prefect's permission - but other visitors came into the house at Domene and discussed freely there: Naville, Craipeau, Rous and Molinier, but foreigners also, Sneevliet, Vereecken, the American, Cannon, the Socialist leader, Marceau Pivert, and others whom we have not identified.
But this does not mean that all the difficulties of the "special supervision" were overcome. Communication with the International Secretariat and the French leadership was seriously slowed down, and was complicated by the precautions which had to be taken to maintain secrecy. These obscured even the wording of letters, as the historian is well aware, because the documents of this period are hardly ever dated or signed. Pseudonyms constantly changed; it became the rule to use initials, and we only rarely can find the original texts of the articles which appear in the internal bulletins over a diversity of signatures. Trotsky's situation was very inconvenient. The political situation had suddenly opened up, and was characterised by sharp turns, in which decisions had to be taken quickly and the most precise formulations used...
One of the first consequences of February 1934, which was so rich in sudden change of fortune, was indeed that it brought out into the full light of day the crisis which was ripening within both of the leading workers' parties.In each of them there appeared currents of workers who openly opposed the policy of division which both leaderships had been following for years. At the summit of the Communist Party there was the "Doriot affair". The deputy-mayor of St. Denis, "Big Jacques", who enjoyed undisputed popularity in the party, spoke out openly at the January 1934 meeting of the Central Committee in favour of a united front policy. He went on to advance proposals for joint activities to be addressed to the leaders of the SFIO. Between February 6 and 12 he was able to take a number of public initiatives in that direction.
Within the SFIO there were two tendencies, the "Committee for Revolutionary Socialist Action", led by Claude Just, and "La Bataille Socialiste", led by two leaders of the Seine Federation of the SFIO, Jean Zyromski and Marceau Pivert.Both made unity of action with the Communist Party the key to the struggle for victory. The Communist League, which had been fighting for years on the "united front" slogan, was therefore placed - at any rate in theory - in a favourable position. It made real links with the Socialist Left, especially with the youth in the Seine Federation, and it tried to make links in the St. Denis district, where the Communist Party had followed Doriot like one man. This was more difficult.
Trotsky had next to no illusions about some kind of "objective" development bringing direct to the League the organisations and the people who were inevitably marked with the imprint of bureaucratic degeneration, even though less so than Doriot himself, who was a pure product of the Stalinist apparatus.Trotsky knew equally well that the activity of the League and its intervention were the decisive factor in a favourable development, and that the League unfortunately neither had the necessary numbers and political experience nor was sufficiently tempered. He therefore strained himself to arm his comrades, and to explain to them how they could grip hold of the militant workers who supported Doriot without adapting themselves to their thinking.
At the same time he displayed increasing impatience with the continued procrastination by his French comrades of work directed towards the Socialist Party, the internal development of which appeared to him to be the determining factor in the situation. In fact he believed that considerable possibilities were opened by the crisis in the SFIO; the party had been thrown off-balance by the break with its right wing, the "Neo-Socialistes", at the end of 1933. In France left wings were developing, as in Austria, in Belgium and in Spain.To be sure, they were confused, but they were making rapid progress, driven forward by militant workers, often young, who had drawn the lessons of the German experience and of the weakness of the working class when the d' vision of its organisations paralysed it.
He urged his comrades in Paris to draft and distribute a Programme of Action, and himself contributed to it, thinking about workers breaking with the policy of their leaders at least as much as about the un-organised youth. But the forces of the League by itself, isolated in the face of huge problems, seemed to him to be derisory.The Communist Party and the SFIO were soon to conclude a pact for joint activity, and this seemed to him to be the final warning. Too much time had already been lost. It was, no doubt, from Lyons, and then, for certain, from St. Pierre-de-Chartreuse, that he sent to Raymond Molinier the first documents, signed with a new pseudonym, Vidal, in which he urged the League to enter the SFIO and join their supporters there. From that time on, the question was posed of what was to come to be called "entrism"; the affair of the "French turn" began.
The urgent suggestion to enter the SFIO did not involve a new method. Several months earlier Trotsky had addressed similar proposals to his comrades in Austria, and, in particular, to the British section, which he wished to persuade to enter the Independent Labour Party. But this obviously was a tactical initiative on quite a different scale. According to Trotsky, everything made it necessary: the configuration of political forces since the "turn" of the Communist Party to "unity of action" and even to "organic unity"; the immediate prospect of a caricature of the "United Front", which he called a "masquerade"; the deep crisis of the SFIO linked to that of the Parliamentary regime, and, finally, the numerical weakness of the Communist League as much as its propagandist eccentricities and the weakness of its implantation in the ranks of the working class.
For this "turn" to be fruitful it should be effected very quickly, in fact as quickly as possible. Especially it should be unanimous.He said this and wrote it over and over again. This proved to be impossible, thanks not merely to delay - many even of the leading comrades in the League were already "on holiday" - but also to the attitude of the leaders and members of the League, whom the proposal took completely by surprise. Many of the French Bolshevik-Leninists indeed reacted like the former oppositionists in the Communist Party that they were.They raised the question of what the Stalinists (whom they feared) would say. They rejected what seemed to them to be an accommodation (if not a capitulation) to Social-Democracy and a renunciation of the principles of Communism. Many, to be sure, were convinced right away because the proposal came from Trotsky. Many were to complain later even that their reaction would have been different if they had known from whom it came! Raymond Molinier, one of the few party leaders not on holiday, was entrusted by Trotsky personally with the task of getting this radical turn operated quickly. He did so, in accordance with his personal temperament, that is, "forcefully", without letting legalistic scruples or literal respect for the constitution stand in his way. In a single flash, all the old quarrels about methods of leadership and the internal regime of the organisation burst out afresh, with renewed violence, fed this time with new arguments and charged with emotion.
To begin with, in the International Secretariat, the German comrade, Bauer, was angered by the "tailism" of his comrades, whom he treated as weaklings who would agree to anything if it came from Trotsky.He declared that he could not see how they could, at one and the same time, break from the Sozialistische Arbeiter Partei because it refused to denounce the course of the Norwegian Labour Party towards Social-Democracy and, at the same time, themselves propose to join Social-Democracy. He had the support of the majority of the leading members of the I.K.D. in emigration, and claimed to have that of the majority of the underground groups in Germany. He likened Trotsky to Plekhanov and Kautsky, and denounced organisational methods which, he said, were not inferior to those of... Nazism. This was serious, because Bauer was the international secretary of the International Communist League and, at the same time, the secretary of the decisive German section.
Things appeared to be just as bad in the French section. The hair-dresser Lhuillier and a small group followed Bauer into principled opposition, denouncing the "turn" as a "capitulation", which they regarded as a symptom of what they called "the crisis of liquidation" of the Communist movement itself. But that was not the worst. Pierre Naville, the old personal enemy of Raymond Molinier in the League, and with him the prestigious veteran of Italian Communism, Blasco not oppose entrism on principle, but refused to accept the conditions on which the Molinier leadership demanded that the French section carry it out.The Third National Conference of the League met on August 25th, 1934. Trotsky had wanted it to meet on July 14. In conformity with his proposal, it decided to operate an "entry". Favourable conditions had already been negotiated with the secretariat of the SFIO: La Verité would continue, as the organ of the tendency. But the minority disputed the voting, as well as the mandates which enables the votes to be cast. It vehemently protested against the rapidity with which the new leadership demanded that the entry be carried out, and claimed that this violated the will of the organisation. Matters became so serious that the Plenum of the International Secretariat, which had been announced already, was cancelled, and no date fixed for it. However, members of the League were taking advantage of the friendly attitude of the secretariat of the SFIO (which saw this as a good operation for them); those who requested to enter the SFIO were being admitted. La Verité began to appear, no longer as the organ of the Communist League, but as the organ of the Bolshevik-Leninist Group ("GBL") in the SFIO. The truth is that a little over half of the 140 members of the League followed Molinier - in reality, Trotsky - in this operation.
It is clear that from September 1934 onwards this crisis was infinitely more serious than that which the proposal to "enter" the British ILP had provoked in 1933. Indeed, the crisis overflowed the boundaries of the French League. The verbal excesses of Bauer and his links with the French minority led to his being suspended from his functions in the International Secretariat. The minority in the IKD, which supported entrism, achieved a real surprise stroke, when it published, on its own responsibility, an issue of Unser Wort defending entrism. Bauer and his comrades replied on September 20 with an "Open Letter", which violently denounced the entrist policy. The Spanish section categorically denounced the French turn and haughtily rejected the proposal for entrism which Trotsky addressed to it. The Belgian section followed Vereeken, who only agreed to the turn after a private conversation with Trotsky at Domene, and because, according to his story, it was a matter only for France and could not in any case be extended to other sections. The position in the Netherlands was the same: Sneevliet thought that it was a great mistake that Trotsky's proposal had not been submitted first to the international leadership, instead of being addressed directly to the French leadership. The Naville-Blasco group issued a press statement which contradicted the statement published in Le Populaire announcing the entry of the League into the SFIO. Naville was summarily excluded - an act which Trotsky, moreover, did not accept.
In reality, his task was, at one and the same time, to support the "French turn" and to widen it where necessary, and to pull together again the pieces into which the International Communist League had been broken in this way. For this purpose, he counted on the International Plenum, which was to be held in October, and on Cannon, who was coming to Europe with all the prestige of the American section after the strikes of summer 1934 and the promising fusion which it was in the process of completing.
We can estimate that efforts at conciliation had borne fruit in November. The international organisation had operated the turn with limited damage. The Belgian section disavowed the charges which Vereeken had brought against Trotsky. Even better, Lesoil was impressed by the debate in France and the first results of the entry there; he became convinced that Belgian conditions called for the French turn to be extended to that country. In December 1934 the Belgian section accepted his proposal, which Trotsky supported, that the "Leninist Youth" should enter the ranks of the youth section of the Belgian Labour Party ("POB"), the "Socialist Young Guard", in the conviction that they could quickly win one of its principal leaders, Walter Dauge, who was the leader in the Borinage. Two young German leaders, Erwin Wolf and Walter Held, who at first had followed Bauer, changed their minds and supported entrism, as well as the Swiss, whom Frankel went to convince. Bauer himself gave ground and promised Cannon not to commit the irreparable, namely, to join the SAP before a conference of the German section had been held. The Naville-Blasco group in turn joined the SFIO, and undertook to publish La Lutte des Classes at its expense. They told Cannon, who was sent by the Plenum to negotiate with them, that they agreed to re-unification on condition that the necessary discussion was held on "methods" and the "internal regime" of the French section, which, according to them, were at the root of the crisis.
This discussion opened just when the conditions were favourable to a positive outcome. The sharp crisis in the leadership of the GBL began to be resolved.The minority of the Central Committee advanced proposals favourable to entrism, under the pressure of Trotsky and of the International Secretariat; these proposals opposed the leadership methods of a too-powerful secretariat, from which Molinier allowed himself to be excluded. A newcomer, the Catalan Jean Rous, began to play a conciliatory role with great success.True, the Lhuillier group had finally departed; it immediately joined the "Union Communiste". But the first results of work in the SFIO, where Trotskyist influence was extending what was being gained among the Socialist Youth, were very promising, and raised the possibility that the perhaps-inevitable initial losses could be recouped.
In a certain way the question of "entrism" eclipsed all others. Trotsky hardly mentioned in passing the events in Spain in October 1934 in an article and in letters, the General Strikes in Madrid and in Catalonia and the Asturias rising. When the crisis broke out in Catalonia, Trotsky did his best, once again, to convince Andres Nin and his Spanish comrades to end their policy of "tailing" behind Maurin and the Catalan petty bourgeoisie, and to take the initiative. He also hardly had the time to comment on the evolution of the Norwegian Labour Party, which confirmed – how strikingly! – his 1933 forecast that it would accommodate to Social-Democracy and its politics.
After the "Scandinavian Conference" Ole Colbjorsen, the leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, went so far as to launch an appeal, in Arbeiderbladet (August 20), for "a common front against the twin brothers, Communism and Fascism".
But positive developments were unfolding elsewhere. The events in the Netherlands
could be put down to the credit of the past activity of the now-moribund "Bloc of Four". Harsh repression of a workers' uprising in the Jourdaan quarter of Amsterdam led to a deep crisis in the OSP, and to the expected differentiation in its leadership. Peter Schmidt, who supported the workers, was imprisoned. De Kadt and Sal Tas, who distanced themselves from the rising, were driven by the indignation of the members to resign from the party. The OSP, relieved of the burden of its right-wing, re-opened its discussions with the RSP about fusion to form a new party – to which everything promised a rapid conclusion.
In USA the social crisis re-awakened the hidden forces of the workers' movement and the American Trotskyists began to play a role which was by no means negligible. It was particularly the Trotskyists who magnificently organised and led to a resounding victory the two tough strikes of the lorry drivers ("Teamsters") in Minneapolis. The
fusion which was being prepared between the Communist League of America and the American Workers' Party of A.J. Muste was not only a great victory for the Trotskyists over the other currents which had so earnestly courted Muste and his people. It foreshadowed the early formation in USA of a party of over 2,000 members, solidly rooted in certain trade unions, in the unemployed leagues and on the university campuses, occupying trade union positions and enjoying real prestige among advanced intellectuals.
The moment drew near when, after the formation of the two united parties in the Netherlands and in USA - parties which did not belong to the International Communist League but part of the cadres of which were linked to it by international fractional discipline - a new international regroupment initiative, starting from these, was in the end to start again the struggle for the Fourth International and to provide the framework for it which the "Four" had not been able to put together.
At that moment, no doubt, Trotsky could have hoped that the difficulties inherent in a necessary turn towards mass activity were in the process of being overcome, and that the struggle was about to develop on a scale which would be infinitely wider, in the framework of the huge mass movements which were arising and starting throughout Western Europe. Likewise the news which he got from the Soviet Union could seem to be encouraging, though, in fact, it was from that quarter that the next blow was to fall.
On December 1, 1934, In Leningrad, Sergei Kirov, the party secretary who was generally regarded as Stalin's "Number 2", and in whom those bureaucrats who had been moving into opposition for several months past saw Stalin's possible successor, was assassinated by revolver shots, fired by a young Communist called Nikolaev. At the time of his trial (which was held in camera), after an enquiry conducted in highly questionable conditions, after the dismissal and then the arrest of several senior officers of the political police, the GPU (2), the prosecution tried (in a very clumsy way, it is true) to compromise Trotsky, by linking him to what was claimed to be a "terrorist centre" in Leningrad. At that moment it was clear that Stalin wanted to exploit the affair at least to strike a further blow at former opponents who had capitulated, and to break by terror every shadow of expression of a discontent which was growing throughout the whole country (3). Entire trains were filled with contingents of Leningrad Communists whom their comrades in misfortune called, not without humour, "Kirov's killers".
Zinoviev, Kamenev and many of their former comrades were arrested again and brought before the tribunal which was henceforth to decide summarily any terrorism cases. The
world Stalinist press was led by L'Humanité in denouncing Trotsky and trying to smear him, demanding that he be driven for ever out of France. Trotsky took up his pen and began to sift through the records of the court hearings, statements of charges, press reports and articles, in the effort to ward these blows off and to inflict counter-blows, to expose what he called the "amalgams" which were being prepared and to fight to forewarn public opinion. He could see clearly that the infernal police conspiracy was only just beginning.
A new period was indeed opening both for Trotsky and for the international organisation which he was working to construct.It began in the Soviet Union - there was nothing surprising in that by a veritable campaign to exterminate every supporter of the Russian Left Opposition. On the day of Kirov's death - and no doubt on the day when his assassination was planned - Stalin's struggle began to destroy the Fourth International that was being formed.
(1) The name is not "Louis", as David King and Francis Wyndham write in their interesting documentary work ("Trotsky", London, Penguin, 1972).The reader can easily verify this by looking, on p.137 of this work, at the photograph of the false papers with which the prefect of the Isere provided Trotsky.
(2) In fact it was during this period that the "GPU" officially ceased to exist, when the re-organisation of July 10, 1934 absorbed the political police into one large Ministry of the Interior, the NKVD. The organisation continued, and until Trotsky's death he continued to call it by its former initials, "GPU". We have followed this practice.
(3) We know that Trotsky believed the GPU to have played a central part in preparing for the assassination, but he did not attribute to it the desire to go to the end and actually kill Kirov.Since then, Khrushchev and other writers have gone much further and at least hinted that Stalin had Kirov killed; thus he would kill two birds with one stone, getting rid of a possible rival and getting a pretext for mass repressions.
The Introduction to Leon Trotsky: Oeuvres
by Pierre Broué and Michel Dreyfus
JANUARY - JUNE 1935
Trotsky was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929 and was permitted, in July 1933, to live in France. He was formally expelled from France in April 1934, but none the less was able to take provisional refuge, in conditions of "special supervision", in the home of a teacher in the department of the Isere, Laurent Beau, at Domene. In 1933 he called on his supporters throughout the world, the Bolshevik-Leninists of the sections of the International Left Opposition, to give up finally the policy of "opposition" within he Communist Parties and the Communist International, and to devote themselves to constructing new parties and a new International, the Fourth. In 1934, his proposal of the French "turn", the policy of entry - it would now be called "entrism" - of the French Bolshevik-Leninists into the SFIO, raised a tempest in their ranks. Finally, it was at Domene that he learned, at the beginning of December 1934 that Kirov had been assassinated.He understood and pointed out that Stalin was trying to mount
a new "amalgam" of tremendous scope, which would link terrorist activity and even sabotage and espionage to those who were really, or even in appearance, opposing the bureaucracy and, of course, in the first place, to the militants of the Left Opposition, who for the moment were scattered in the labour camps and the isolators.
It was, therefore, due to the force of circumstances that his first efforts in 1935 were devoted to the Soviet Union.The Kirov affair revealed the hand of the GPU. The operation half-failed, but none the less the dangers which it implied were clear. Repression came down on a wide range of people, beginning with Zinoviev and Kamenev, the former leaders of the Leningrad Opposition, who were re-arrested, dragged before a military court in charges of being "morally responsible" for the murder of Kirov, and condemned to long prison sentences. Trotsky defended his former adversaries against these infamous charges, and easily showed that their real purpose was to destroy any opposition. The Left Opposition was, of course, their particular target. The news that his first wife, Alexandra, and his second son, Sergei, had been arrested, that none of his friends had been released when they had served their sentences and that former Oppositionists who had capitulated were being arrested, demonstrated to him that the threat was real and serious. Tirelessly he took to pieces the mechanism which Stalin's plot against Kirov had set in motion, and which was intended in the last analysis to crush - Trotsky himself. Moreover, this had to be explained and understood. Theoretical studies, among them a discussion on the idea of "Thermidor", enabled him to correct a historical analogy which might affect the precision and, therefore, the effectiveness of his analysis. On the other hand, the biography of Lenin which he had begun fell further and further behind schedule, for reasons easy to understand.
The disturbances, which the "French turn" (the "entry" of the French Bolshevik-Leninists into the SFIO) had provoked in the International Communist League, the international organisation, were being calmed down, but they left serious traces.No small contribution to this process of pacification was made by the successes of the French Bolshevik-Leninists in the SFIO, where they were winning the majority of the youth in Seine Federation, and were separating Marceau Pivert from Zyromski in the ranks of the centrists. Under the inspiration of Lesoil, the Belgian section was won, in turn, to
"entrism", and decided in March 1935 to enter the POB, in conditions which were less favourable than those in France, because the Belgian Bolshevik-Leninists found themselves denied the right to have their own organ, and, also, because the party which they had just entered accepted a few days later to participate in a government of "national unity".Vereeken split; he formed his own group at the beginning of April, publishing the journal, "Spartakus". This was no surprise to anyone, but important gains seemed to be near in Belgium, in particular the possibility of quickly winning Walter Dauge, one of the top leaders of the Socialist Young Guard and its leader in the mining district of the Borinage.
In the American section, also, there were opponents of "entrism", Hugo Oehler and Tom Stamm, who had earlier opposed the fusion with the "Muste-ites" in 1933, and whose activities were a source of real tension in the Workers' Party of the U.S., especially between Muste and Cannon, because Muste reproached Cannon for being too tough with the opposition in the party. The Spanish section, which in the preceding September had unanimously rejected the proposal to enter the Socialist Party, raised the question again. Ferson, thanks to meeting militants on the Socialist Youth imprisoned with him, became convinced that the turn which Trotsky proposed was correct. The Executive of the Communist Left (Izquierda comunista) proposed a comprimise: a "new party" in Catalonia, produced by re-grouping the revolutionaries, notably with the Workers' and Peasants' Bloc, led by Maurin; meanwhile there would be "entry" in the Socialist Youth elsewhere in Spain. The Swiss section, the "Marxistische Aktion" Group, decided at its first conference in December 1934,to enter the Socialist Party. Its example was soon followed by the small group in Roumania. Likewise, discussions were going on in Poland, about the possibility of "entering" the Bund and the Socialist Party.
The I.A.G. ("International Labour Community"), which the I.L.P. and the S.A.P. supported, finally held its conference in February 1935. This was the first since the conference in August 1933, at which the "Bloc of Four" for the Fourth International had been formed. One detail connected with this second conference is significant; they spent a whole day with people from the left of the Socialist Parties in St. Denis, at the house of Doriot, who was not even a member of the Socialist Party. From November 1934 onwards Trotsky had opposed in the International Secretariat the positions of some of the French and Belgian representatives, who wanted the International Communist League to participate again. Trotsky's view was that they should not go to this conference; they should not give the centrists the opportunity all to join forces against the "Trotskyists", in order to allow free play to the contradictions which were undermining this "unprincipled bloc". He believed that this conference would in any case enable a balance to be drawn of the experience of the "Bloc of Four", which had been formed in August 1933 but had been dragging its wings for many months.
By now the Dutch O.S.P. had shed the burden of its right wing, led by De Kadt and Sal Tas, and was at last engaged in the process of fusing with Sneevliet's R.S.P. The future united party of the Netherlands was represented at the conference of the I.A.G. by P.J. Schmidt and Sneevliet, who jointly presented a resolution for the Fourth International. The Norwegian Labour Party was not represented there. It was soon to be called upon to form a new government in Norway, and appeared no more in such gatherings as this. In fact, it was the S.A.P. which appeared to be the motive force of the coalition which had been formed under the sign of the I.A.G. and its "London Bureau". The S.A.P. moved the motion opposing that of the Dutch on the question of the International. It said that it supported the new International, but entrusted the task of constructing it to "the historic process". From that time Trotsky regarded Walcher's party as the principal barrier, the common denominator of the "centrists", which enabled them to obstruct the actual struggle for the Fourth International. This was also the final conclusion which Schmidt and Sneevliet drew from the conference, after beginning with the conviction that they had to work in the London Bureau. The Polish comrade, Stockfisch, whom Bauer had brought into the conference as an "observer" was also convinced, by experience, that Trotsky was right.
Trotsky decided that things were now sufficiently clear, and opened the sharpest possible polemic against the S.A.P. and the "International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity" - the new title which the I.A.G. conferred upon itself at the conference. He put to one side the reservations of some sectors of his own international organisation, in particular, the underground workers in Germany, who obviously saw the question from a different angle. The public break with the S.A.P. was confirmed in April in a long document devoted to it. This signed the death-warrant of the "Bloc of Four", which, from all the evidence, had long since exhausted its possibilities of playing the role of a framework for constructing the Fourth International. This turn also had consequences for the international youth organisation, the Stockholm Youth Bureau, with which began a process leading to a split.
However, to continue the struggle for the Fourth International had become not less necessary but rather more so.The rapidity with which the Stalinised USSR was degenerating was to confirm the analysis of July 1933 on this point. A new initiative had to be taken. This evidently could not come from sections which were operating an "entrist" tactic.It was, therefore, to come from the two organisations which resulted from the policy of the "Bloc of Four", the two unified parties in the Netherlands and in USA, which had just been formed.Trotsky turned urgently towards them immediately after the February 1935 Conference of the I.A.G. It is clear, indeed, that the defection of the S.A.P. was to be compensated - and more - by the positive gain which the Workers' Party of US and the RSAP of the Netherlands represented. At this point Trotsky conceived the plan for what he called The Manifesto for the Fourth International, a document which he drafted and which was amended, adopted and signed by these two parties, by the International Communist League itself, by the French Bolshevik-Leninist Group and by the Workers' Party of Canada. This document was to be known as The Open Letter.
Much time was spent in putting it together and in the struggle to get the first signatures. However, the text was clear and concrete. It enabled a real discussion and real clarification to take place; in short, it brought together, at a higher level, those who were convinced, whatever organisation they might be in, that an International is necessary to the victory of the revolution.
Indeed, Trotsky believed that the proletarian revolution was once more on the order of the day. In the spring of 1935, he returned, in a rather long document, to the situation in France. The movement of the masses was being fed by the economic and social crisis and by the deadly danger of fascism. It ran up against the obstacles presented by the apparatuses of the workers' parties, and, in the first place, by that of the French Communist Party, which the Communist International controlled, and the real policies of which Trotsky minutely analysed when they were revealed in March 1935.
There soon followed an event of capital importance in history as a whole, and of even greater importance in the history of the international workers' movement. This was a diplomatic action which was to have incalculable consequences: Pierre Laval, the successor to Barthou as Minister for Foreign Affairs in France, went to Moscow to sign a pact of mutual assistance in the event of Nazi aggression, and came back waving a declaration by Stalin that the latter approved "the policy of national defence" of the French government.
The French Communist Party did not lose a moment in making an about-turn. Its poster proclaimed: "Stalin is Right". In this way it opened the road towards the objective, which it was openly taking, of forming a "Popular Front", in the form of an electoral alliance - the alliance of the two workers' parties with the traditional party French imperialism, the Radical Party of Herriot and Daladier.
The conclusion of a political bloc of these two parties, the Socialist and the Communist Parties, with a party of the bourgeois order, at a time when France and the USSR were allied against Nazi Germany, had a precise meaning for Trotsky. It meant that the leaders of the Socialist and Communist Parties were preparing a "sacred union" in the war against Nazi Germany, presenting it for the occasion as an "anti-fascist" war. At once the Popular Front took on its full significance as a barrier against the rise of the masses, which was threatening the rule of the bourgeoisie... and their plans for "national unity".
This was all clear to Trotsky, though it seems to have been a little less clear to his French comrades in the GBL. They did not seem to grasp the difference between the "united front" of the workers, which opens the perspective of class struggle, and the "Popular' Front" which is wide open to bourgeois parties. They revealed this misunderstanding when they called for "a Popular Front of Struggle". Trotsky drew their attention to this difference. Above all he tried to overcome the illusions which they had formed, thanks to their immediate successes and to the adaptation necessary to win them. He understood that, in these conditions, they must not expect the SFIO bureaucrats to go on holding their benevolent attitude towards the Bolshevik-Leninists, whose developing influence was evidently making them anxious.
Even by that time Trotsky was appealing to his comrades to turn towards a more independent policy, even though nothing yet made it possible to decided a date when to leave the SFIO. He called upon them to present their policies to the workers, who were not numerous in the Socialist Party, but whom they would find in the trade union and among the unorganised, if they addressed them directly.
Moreover, he gave them a personal example of this orientation. In the Isere, he secured, through the co-operation of his recent recruit, Alexis Bardin, the acceptance by the departmental trade union of the CGT and by its secretary, the printer Marcel Satre, of a unitary and revolutionary orientation. To his great regret, he could not convince his old allies, like Maurice Dommanget and the leaders of the Unitary Federation of Teachers, who persisted in their double refusal to come and work in the SFIO and to make their trade union organisation the spear-head of a trade union reunification imposed from below.
It is very clear, however, that the wholly relative asylum which he still enjoyed in France would become more precarious and dangerous in these conditions. What country would accord to this exile the residence visa which would ensure to him normal working conditions, more freedom of movement and less uncertainty? We would expect that Socialist governments would eventually decide to take this step. The first opportunity presented itself in March 1935, when the elections brought Tranmael's Norwegian Labour Party to power for the first time. This possibility had to be explored at once. Gerard Rosenthal, Trotsky's lawyer and precious friend, went to Oslo and met several ministers, with whom he discussed and whom he tried to convince. The young German, Walter Held, who was a refugee in Oslo, as well as former members of the Communist International, who remained in contact even when they had gone into the Norwegian Labour Party, like Olav Scheflo, continued the approaches which had been started. At the beginning of June, a telegram from Held brought the good news: the leaders of the Norwegian Labour Party had promised that their government would give Trotsky the visa. At top speed the guests at Domene packed their bags and obtained from the (greatly relieved) French police permission to travel via Paris. Disagreeable news awaited them there. The Norwegian diplomats in Paris told them to go away: there was no visa. Several days had to be spent in agonised waiting in Paris, in a situation which threatened to become tragic, before everything was satisfactorily settled. At last Trotsky and Natalia left Paris in the evening of June 14, once more escorted by the super-faithful Jan van Heijenhoort. Jan Frankel left Czechoslovakia and joined the little band at Antwerp. After a meeting of militants in the Belgian port, they finally embarked for Oslo on the 15th, and landed there on the morning of June 18, 1935.
The stay in Norway began at the same moment as a Congress closed of the SFIO at Mulhouse. This congress, which took place on the eve of the Seventh Congress of the Communist International (seven years after its Sixth Congress in 1928), was at one and the same time encouraging and yet threatening to the Bolshevik-Leninists. In a letter to the International Secretariat, which Trotsky wrote in difficult conditions during a brief stay at the house of Dr. Rosenthal, the father of his friend, Gerard, he announced that "a new period" had opened, and that the essential task now had become the construction of an independent revolutionary party. Therefore the question of leaving the SFIO was now placed on the order of the day by the new situation and its imperious demands, less than a year after the entry. Once again Trotsky was isolated among his comrades, who were at the nerve centre of the world class struggle at its most difficult moment, where they had to know which way to turn and when everything seemed to show that they were far from convinced of the necessity to do so.
The Introduction to Leon Trotsky: Oeuvres
by Pierre Broué and Michel Dreyfus
JUNE - SEPTEMBER 1935
Trotsky's stay in France had been marked from the beginning by a political turn of great significance. He abandoned the policy of regeneration of the Communist International, which in his view had definitively failed, and declared in July 1933 for the construction of new parties and a new International. He did not succeed in constructing the framework for building the new International from the four organisations which came together on the basis of a common declaration in August 1933. Theill-will of the S.A.P. ended in the break-up of the "Bloc of Four". But, at the moment when he was leaving France, in June 1935, a new initiative which he had conceived and pressed forward began to develop. Five organisations, the International Communist League, the Bolshevik-Leninist Froup in the S.F.I.O., the Workers' Party of Canada and especially the two parties, in the USA and in the Netherlands, born from fusion by a section of the League with other workers' organisations, the W.P.U.S. and the R.S.A.P., signed and began to circulate the Open Letter, the appeal for the construction of the Fourth International, which, for Trotsky, was the central task of the current period of history.
In the early weeks of Trotsky's stay in Norway, his attention was equally devoted to two other questions of the greatest importance to the international movement and, consequently, in his eyes, to the future of humanity. The first was the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, of the Bolshevik Party and of the Communist International - the opportunist policy of the Popular Front, which was to convert the Communist Parties into bulwarks of the existing order from the Seventh Congress of the Communist International onwards, and the danger which this implied for the Bolshevik-Leninists in the Soviet Union, for his relatives - and for himself.
The first task was to explain the degeneration, to apply the Marxist method of analysis to its history. A preface, which he intended for a new edition in USA of The History of the Russian Revolution, was to absorb most of his intellectual activity for months. The topic engaged him, and, instead of a preface, he wrote a full-length book, which was to be completed only in August 1936 and be entitled The Revolution Betrayed.
At the same time, there were the immediate tasks of the struggle against repression in the USSR.The Stalinist bureaucracy and its external agencies were exploiting the assassination of Kirov. Zinoviev, Kamenev and several dozen old Bolsheviks were sentenced to prison. Some hundreds of Trotskyist deportees had their sentences extended. The efforts of the Kremlin to implicate Trotsky and others in terrorist "conspiracies" showed clearly what the repression, which did not stop at frontiers, was aiming at.
In the course of summer 1936, one of Stalin's victims, who had in former years been arrested for belonging to the Left Opposition, escaped from the Siberian hell. The Armenian militant who adopted the name, Tarov, escaped into Iran and brought a remarkably detailed testimony to the Stalinist repression. Despite all Trotsky's efforts, the reaction of the Labour Movement of the world to the drama that was being stages on an unprecedented scale was weaker than he expected. Indeed, he seems to have been alone in foreseeing at this time the blood-bath which was being prepared in Moscow.
The second of the questions which held his full attention was closely linked to that of constructing the Fourth International: it was the situation in France. Trotsky believed that the situation was really pre-revolutionary in the country which he had just left, and that there could be no way out from it except by way of the proletarian revolution or by that of fascism. There were serious obstacles on the road of the proletarian revolution, the principal one being the apparatus of the French Communist Party. Nazi Germany had adopted a policy of re-armament and had re-introduced compulsory military service. These steps left in no doubt the intention of the Hitler government to demand a new division of the world by force of arms. The conclusion of the Franco-Soviet Pact, in May 1935, directed the French Communist Party down the rails of a new "social-patriotism", and for a short time it went even further to the right than did the leaders of the Socialist party. The Communist Party was indisputably the driving-force for the alliance of the workers' parties with the party of French imperialism, the Radical party of Herriot and Daladier. Trotsky believed that in these conditions the stay of the Bolshevik-Leninists in the S.F.I.O. was necessarily nearing its end. A year after "entering", they must get ready to leave, both because the bureaucrats were getting ready to put them out and because the growing mass movement demanded that they construct a significant pole of re-groupment for the construct-of a revolutionary party.
* * *
Trotsky and the small group which accompanied him disembarked at Oslo on the morning of June 18. They went off almost at once by car to the small town of Jevnaker, where they stayed for a few days in a hotel. On June 23 they were settled in the home of a journalist, a member of the Norwegian Labour Party, named Konrad Knudsen, who was a friend of Olav Scheflo, who made the arrangements. The location was called Wexhall which is administratively part of the small town of Hønefoss. The house was not large and Trotsky kept only one secretary by him, Jan Frankel. Living with the Knudsens, husband and wife and their children, Bognar and Hyørdis, proved to be free from problems and even frankly friendly. With their guests, the hosts met Norwegian militants and intellectuals, such as Olav Scheflo, Hakon Meyer and Helge Krog, as well as the young German, Walter Held. 'Trotsky received some visits and notably three Americans during August, one of whom, Harold R. Isaacs, was working on a book about the Chinese Revolution.
Their installation in Norway coincided with an event which had been so long awaited that it now had the significance only of confirming preceding developments. This was the Seventh Congress of the Communist International. It was held seven years after the Sixth Congress and two years after the catastrophe in Germany, and gave the signal for the policy which had been introduced in France to be extended to every country. Trotsky devoted several articles to this question, with obvious reluctance, because in his opinion the Congress only confirmed the diagnosis which he had formulated a long time before, that the Communist International has by now become no more than a corpse and that it was an obstacle in the path of the world proletariat. No other instrument but the Fourth International could sweep it away. The Fourth International had to be constructed to provide the working class with the revolutionary leadership which it needed for victory. There existed no other answer to give to the militants who were here and there revolting against the new policy, or, as at Brest and Toulon, going into battle against the crisis-ridden regime. The way forward which was laid down was that of regroupment around the Open Letter.
We cannot trace the struggle to secure the signature of the Open Letter without paying attention to the political developments within the International Communist League and its sections. To the final consequences of the crisis which the "French turn" provoked were soon added the consequences of the decisive turn operated by the Stalinised USSR, through that in the Communist International and its parties, through the Seventh Congress, through the outbreak of the Italo-Abyssinian war and the decision of the League of Nations to apply economic sanctions, to "punish" Italy for its "aggression".
In America the Workers' Party was experiencing the first difficulties since it was founded. At once, a group of former members of the American Workers' Party, probably led by a group of secret supporters of the Communist Party round Louis Budenz, went off with a great deal of noise in April 1935. Then began the discussions provoked by the fraction round Hugo Oehler, which seemed to repeat all the signs of the crisis of the European sections in autumn 1934. Oehler was a former leading member of the Communist Party. He had been a member of the Opposition since 1930, and formed the fraction to oppose the fusion of the Communist League of America with the American Workers' Party, which he judged to be opportunist. It crystallised round a principled opposition to the entry in France, which was ultimately envenomed by an almost hysterical opposition to "entry" into the American Socialist Party, which Cannon and Shachtman at that time did no more than consider. The Oehler fraction voted against the Open Letter in June 1935, but claimed that the signatures of groups which, like the French GBL, had integrated themselves into a party of the Second International should be excluded. It was, indeed, isolated, and in a small minority on this point, but it is difficult not to link to its opposition the decision of the W.P.U.S. leadership to put back the final date for signing the Open Letter by a month, to enable the S.A.P. possibly to support it. Muste was formally the source of this proposal; he was, moreover, opposed to entrism and was particularly opposed to the methods of Cannon, which he judged to be too "brutal". Cannon was preparing to expel Oehler and his supporters, whom he regarded as a "sectarian" fraction, to be cleared out a quickly as possible. Abern, one of the historic leaders of the American Opposition, supported Muste, and a "buffer-group" formed behind Weber and Glotzer, also called Cannon's "methods" into question. A clumsy initiative by the International Secretariat, which published in the Internal Bulletin a fractional letter by Cannon and Shachtman, and included some harsh words about their opponents, seemed likely for a moment to provoke an explosion. Trotsky engaged himself in reconciling the majority with the "buffer‑group" and in any case in avoiding a split. The other sections (for their part) thought that the W.P.U.S. did not accord all the necessary attention or effort to the struggle for the Open Letter.
The old Belgian section, the majority, led by Lesoil, which was carrying out an "entry" in the Belgian Labour Party, took no part at all in this struggle. Since entering, it had integrated itself in the Left around "Action Socialiste", and, from summer 1935 onwards, had won a real success in eliminating from this tendency the pro-Stalinist fraction in Brussels round Dr. Mateaux. Its influence grew in the re-grouped fraction round Walter Dauge, the leader of the youth in the Borinage, which had turned itself into "Action Socialiste Revolutionnaire". Only the entrist group refused to sign the Open Letter at this time, because of the special circumstances in which it was placed. It had not yet succeeded in convincing its closest contacts. Trotsky had confidence in its leaders, but the situation thus created was all the more delicate in that the "Spartakus" Group, born in March 1935 from the split round Vereeken, signed in August, was firing off red-hot cannon balls at the "internal regime" of the League. Trotsky was quite ready to accept Vereeken among the supporters of the Fourth International and possibly even inside it, but was not disposed to admit him on the spot into the International Communist League, and polemicised against Vereeken for his "sectarianism".
Soon it was the turn of the R.S.A.P. to be drawn into the serious crisis which signature of the Open Letter provoked. In August 1935, its president, P.J. Schmidt, the former leader of the O.S.P., who was secretary of the I.A.G., drew the balance of two years' experience, and came down sharply against the I.A.G. and for the Fourth International. An important fraction among the former members of the O.S.P. (secretly backed by the S.A.P.) opened a fractional struggle led by Molenaar, the leader of the youth and by the veteran, van der Goes. The first battle to be joined was at the Youth Congress. The leadership of the R.S.A.P. had been officially entrusted with the secretarial work of the supporters of the Fourth International, through Schmidt and Sneevliet, since the Open Letter, but merely defended itself inside it own organisation, taking no initiatives.
In Britain the situation was still more confused. In the middle of 1935, it seems, the majority of the militants, who were organised in "The Marxist Group in the I.L.P. - two hundred at most, but none the less a considerable advance at that - themselves reached the conclusion that their activity in the I.L.P. was drawing near its end and that they should soon shift this activity to the wider and more decisive arena in the Labour Party. But in August 1935, the firm position which Fenner Brockway took on Italo-Abyssinian War and his refusal in the months which followed to support the policy of "sanctions", with his appeal for an independent class policy in support of the oppressed Ethiopian nation, re-awakened the illusions of some Trotskyists in his party and even in his person. The brilliant black intellectual, C.L.R. James, who had recently joined the Trotskyists, argued that it would be criminal to leave the I.L.P. in such a context. Another non-native who was recently integrated into the Marxist Group was the Canadian Earle Birney, who tried to organise the discussion. But the founder of the Group, D.D. Harber, went off alone to involve himself in the Labour Party and in its youth organisation. There was in Great Britain no group which desired or had sufficient authority to sign the Open Letter.
The Spanish section seems to have been nearing the point of breaking with the International Communist League. The discussion about entrism into the Socialist Party began when Fersen was won over to this orientation in prison. It ended, after taking many turnings, with a decision in favour of a "re-groupment of revolutionaries" which gave birth in September 1935 to a new party, the P.O.U.M. (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista). This was almost exclusively located in Catalonia, where it drew in the members of the Communist Left and the much more numerous Workers' and Peasants' Bloc led by Maurin. At the beginning, the position of Andres Nin's comrades, the old members of the Spanish Communist Left, did not differ from that of the Sneevliet Group in the R.S.A.P. or that of Cannon and Shachtman in the W.P.U.S. The International Secretariat sent Jean Rous to Spain and he returned optimistic that the Trotskyists were going to fight for the Fourth International in the P.O.U.M. In fact, the letters which were exchanged in June and July 1935 show that the links were almost broken; Nin insisted that his comrades had undertaken, unlike the Americans or the Dutch, not to form a fraction in the new party.
These were serious difficulties, and they were a heavy burden on the initiatives to be taken when the Open Letter was being distributed. But the principal difficulties were to arise again in the French section, the G.B.L., whom Trotsky had been quoting for months as a model for the whole international organisation. These difficulties were to mark this whole period and to affect Trotsky himself.
During his last days at Domene, he had already had a serious disagreement with Molinier. During his short stay in Paris, he was anxious because most of the leaders of the GBL felt and believed themselves to be committed to work for much longer than it was reasonable to believe possible in the S.F.I.O. The first really alarming symptom soon appeared. The GBL had been one of the first to sign the Open Letter - one of the "five" - but its organ, La Verité delayed publishing the document, and decided to do so only at the end of August, after several reminders, with reservations expressed in cutting out the "organisational" part of the text. Several of the leaders, and not the least important, without any doubt had wished the publication to be delayed for tactical reasons connected with the tendency relations in the S.F.I.O.
Then, on July 30, 1935, the S.F.I.O. made a surprise attack on the G.B.L., and this was successful. It ruthlessly organised, at the time of the national conference of the Socialist Youth, at Lille, the exclusion of thirteen leading members of the Seine Federation. Some of these were Bolshevik-Leninists, while others were not Bolshevik‑Leninists but were resolutely hostile to the "sacred union", like the secretary of the Federation, Fred Zeller. Other small groups were excluded in the following months, this time from the adult party. The reader can trace how Trotsky's anxiety rose little by little, as he pressed his French comrades about their perspectives, their plans and projects. It seems, indeed, as if most of the leaders regarded the prospect, of expulsion as a catastrophe, as a turn back to the ghetto in which the old Communist League had existed before entry. Marceau Pivert protested against the expulsions, but tried at the same time to convince the Bolshevik-Leninists that they had assisted their attackers by their "clumsiness" and "sectarianism". He did his best to persuade them not to endorse the Open Letter - on the ground that it would only make their expulsion easier - and suggested to them certain concessions (such as discontinuing La Verité!) which he believed to be needed so that they could "stay in the party".
This was, in fact, the precise moment when Pivert himself decided - not without hesitations - to break from his former partner at the head of "Bataille Socialiste" and of the Seine Federation, Jean Zyromski. The latter had become the spokesman for the organic unity of the S.F.I.O. and the French Communist Party and the principal spokesman in the Socialist Party for the new Stalinist policy. Was it necessary for the moment to go further, when he had just taken one serious step forward. This was not the advice of some of the leading Bolshevik-Leninists. The Central Committee hesitated, when in fact Pivert had the initiative. At the same moment at the Bolshevik-Leninists were being excluded one after another, Pivert undertook the formation of a "unified revolutionary tendency" with the French sympathisers of the S.A.P. and other extreme left minorities. On September 30, the "Gauche Revolutionnaire" was formed. Molinier was present at the founding meeting, which he assured that the G.B.L. was not hostile to it. He advised his close sympathisers such as Zeller to join it.
Since the leaders of the Seine Federation had been excluded, the policy of the G.B.L. had been marked by hesitation and, consequently, by ambiguity. Despite the unceasing exhortations of Trotsky, the G.B.L. did not in fact decide to undertake resolutely the task of constructing an independent organisation under the banner of the Fourth International. However, it by no means accepted the advice of Pivert that it should capitulate and abandon the banner. In fact a very serious crisis was brewing within the ranks of the G.B.L.
Once again, Trotsky had to receive treatment for the mysterious illness from which he suffered. He went into the communal hospital in Oslo on September 1G and stayed there for six weeks. Natalia, who stayed with the Meyers, Jan Frankel and Walter Held all visited him every day, and he found the time to dictate a number of letters. None the less, this stay in hospital interrupted his work; many questions were to have become more serious by the time he came out of the hospital.
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