Revolution or War n°14

(Semestrial - February 2020)

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Letter to Emancipación-Nuevo Curso on its Historical Claiming of the (Trotskist) Left Opposition and the 4th International in the years 1930s (November 15th 2019)

November 15th 2019

The IGCL to Emancipation/Nuevo Curso,

Dear comrades,

In our letter of July 10th 2019 after the Congress of Emancipation, we proposed to you "a contradictory debate" about your claim of historical lineage with the 4th International that the congress had adopted : "Our tendency is born as the International Communist Left, driven by the opposition of the Russian Left against the degeneration of the International. It constituted external fractions of the left (...). It founded the 4th International in 1938 when the path to a new world war was opened by the capitulation of the International without struggle against Nazism in 1933 and especially after the defeat of the Spanish Revolution in 1937…"( translated by us). To date, you have not responded to this proposal. We regret this all the more since, in addition to the possible clarification of the disagreement between us on this issue, a number of former Trotskyist militants or ex-sympathizers are contacting us directly to initiate discussions. However, the main difficulty for these comrades is, in our opinion, to understand the essential need to make a programmatic, theoretical, political and even militant break with Trotskyism. The debate between us on this issue would therefore have a much broader scope than just the one of our relations.

1) Trotsky’s Left Opposition and Munis’s Fomento Obrero Revolucionario

To present the Left Opposition (of the 1930s) and then the 4th International (officially constituted in 1938) – that is, the political current around Trotsky before World War II – as part of the Communist Left, when the two currents clearly broke off in the early 1930s, is an historical and political error with significant negative consequences if the point is not clarified. Of course, it is necessary to differentiate between Trotskyism as a proletarian political current in the 1930s until the war and that embodied by the 4th International after the outbreak of the 2nd World Imperialist War, which openly abandons class principles by siding with one imperialist camp against the other. While there is therefore a difference to be made, this class betrayal is the final outcome of the previous opportunist process that affected the Trotskyist movement from its ’official’ constitution in the early 1930s. And it marks the definitive passage of Trotskyism as a political current, and with it of its political groups and parties, into the bourgeois camp, that of counterrevolution. Few groups and individuals from the Left Opposition then managed to remain faithful to proletarian internationalism... especially since this could only be done by breaking with the 4th International.

It is with one of these rare expressions, that of Grandizo Munis and the Fomento Obrero Revolucionario (FOR), that Emancipation actually claims its historical continuity. This political current effectively succeeded in breaking with the 4th International in 1947 (see the letter from Natalia Trotsky, Benjamin Peret and G. Munis to the PCI, the French party of the 4th International [1]). Even if we can find Trotskyist remnants in some of the FOR’s formulations and positions, its programmatic document, For a Second Communist Manifesto  [2] (1961), clearly puts forward class positions: on the USSR, left parties, trade unions, national liberation struggles, etc. But it must be noted that they are in opposition, in rupture with the original positions of the Left Opposition and the pre-war 4th International and its theoretical and programmatic framework as it appears in particular in its 1938 Transition Program [3].

2) Left Opposition or Communist Left?

And that is the danger for Emancipation/Nuevo Curso (NC). To date, NC’s positions are clearly class positions that we welcome and regularly reproduce. But they do not fit into the programmatic framework of the pre-war 4th International and the Left Opposition. They are even its open criticism in terms of theory and principles and its negation at the political level. This means that the class coherence of Emancipation and Nuevo Curso is based only on the individual capacities of its members, or some of them, to maintain themselves in these class positions, and not on a collective body politically united and centralized around a program and clear principles. What will happen in situations of historical upheaval and storm that will inevitably affect Emancipation, like any communist group, and cause difficulties, hesitations, doubts, confusions, divergences, oppositions, even crises, within it? What will then be the programmatic reference to maintain a minimum of unity and define the framework for debate and political confrontation? For a second manifesto of 1961 or the 1938 Transitional Programme adopted by the 4th International?

However, the transition from one to the other will be all the easier, in the heat of events, since the Manifesto does not formally or clearly break with the Programme. Even if the former considers that the latter should be "overcome", it does not reject it, even going so far as to reproach certain Trotskyist groups for "interpret[ing] the Transition Programme in a right-wing way"! Its Preface, written in 1965, even still claims organic and political continuity with the Left Opposition without making any balance-sheet of this experience and its historical failure: "In contrast to the reactionary degradation of the Communist International, the Left Opposition, which was at the origin of the Fourth International, expressed the ideological and organic continuity of the Revolution". Worse still, unfortunately, it takes up one of its foundations: "More than ever, the crisis of humanity is a crisis of revolutionary leadership, as Leon Trotsky said".

The Preface even claims that "most of the ideas and proposals contained in the Manifesto below were born from the fight against the degeneration of the Fourth International". There is no doubt that the militants around Munis had risen to class positions beginning with their individual break with the 4th. But the class positions that the FOR, as a collective and therefore political product and expression of the proletariat, had finally adopted, have emerged and are based on a history, on struggles and on a different theoretical and programmatic corpus that were in rupture with the Left Opposition. They are not the product of a left of the Left Opposition. But of the Communist Left whose struggle, or struggles, against the opportunism and degeneration of the CI and... then against the mere Left Opposition, provides the foundation and theoretical and political coherence of these class positions and serves as a reference for us even today. But, what debates within the Left Opposition have led from its 1930s positions to those of the FOR in 1961? What exactly was the political battle? Is the letter of June 1947 with Natalia Trotsky enough when it ends with a "Long live the 4th International!"? What theoretical and political lessons? What contributions did this left of the Left Opposition make? Perhaps Munis’ book Lessons from a Defeat, Promise of Victory ?

3) The United Front [4] Put Forwards by the Trotskyist Left Opposition

The fundamental difference between the Trotskyist Left Opposition and the Communist Left lies in the fact that the former claims the first four congresses of the Communist International while the latter, its known currents (mainly Italian and German-Dutch lefts), claims only the first two (1919 and 1920). The divergence of the time, already in the making at the 2nd Congress of the CI, focused on the adoption by the 3rd and 4th Congresses of the United Front tactics with the Socialist parties, which had nevertheless moved openly and definitively to counterrevolution through their participation in national defence and Sacred Union between the classes during the 1st World imperialist war; and through their bloody and murderous opposition to the Russian revolution and workers’ insurrections in central Europe, particularly that of January 1918 in Germany. Trotsky and the Left Opposition remained faithful to this tactic, which was the opportunistic consequence of the retreat of the international revolutionary wave and the growing isolation of revolutionary Russia. And they even became their most ardent and convinced defenders... until advocating and putting into practice the so-called ’entryist’ policy in the socialist parties in the mid-1930s! Finally, the united front tactic unleashed the anti-fascist united front, the main ideological and political weapon for the recruitment of the proletariat into the imperialist war. We certainly agree on this last point.

Written in 1943-1945, Munis’ book, Lessons from a Defeat, Promise of Victory [5], traces the development of class struggle in Spain from the 1930s until the defeat of the Spanish Republic against Franco and, within it, the intervention of the then Trotskyist Left Opposition, in particular the Izquierda comunista group of which Munis himself was a member. As such, we invite as many people as possible to read and critically, as it should be, study this invaluable document. But we are obliged to note that the book is completely within the programmatic and political framework of Trotskyism of that time. And, in particular, that it does not draw any significant critical balance-sheet of the tactics of the united front itself [6] – not to mention entryism into the Socialist Party.

On the contrary, it defends and claims the tactics of the united front with the left parties, particularly with the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), and even with the anarchist CNT-FAI. And this was in 1943, just after the dramatic and bloody Spanish experience due to the very fact of the proletariat’s enlistment behind the united front and anti-fascism from 1936 to 1939. How did the Spanish group Izquierda comunista (including its delegate to the Workers Alliance, the organization of the united front in Madrid, Munis himself), put into practice the united-front tactic?

In 1934, "Two small organizations (the Izquierda comunista and the Bloque Obrero y Campesino [Workers and Peasants Bloc] [7] took the initiative to create united-front organizations [Alianza Obrera, AO] that could have been transformed into organs of workers’ power (...). For the first time in Spain, the Unique Workers’ Front was accepted by such important mass organizations as the UGT [the socialist trade union which, already then, had largely demonstrated its capacity to sabotage struggles and its anti-worker character, note of the IGCL] and the Socialist Party. This fact could have been decisive for the triumph of the revolution, if the socialists had considered the AO as a real instrument of workers’ unity and action..." (Lessons of a Defeat... [8]).

This passage clearly shows us how Munis, in 1943, still defends the alliance with the PSOE which, by means of the united front, could have been, in his view and according to the ’traditional’ Trotskyist position, an instrument of workers’ unity and in the service of the organs of the so-called ’workers’ power’. Then, he continued on the same path by retracing the failure and impotence of the Alianza Obrera:

"But all the efforts of the Izquierda comunista to evolve in this direction failed in the face of socialist stupidity [sic!]. (...) What could be done with such manoeuvring allies who totally denied the role of the Alianza Obrera and who were moving it further and further away from its indispensable transformation into a democratic united front organization, likely to serve as a basis for the future revolutionary power? (...) For its part, dominated by anarchists, the CNT was unable to understand that its presence within the AO would have broken socialist domination and made possible a transformation of enormous revolutionary scope. Between the political opportunism of some and the ‘apolitical’ opportunism of others, the AO had its hands tied" (idem [9]).

If there was any need for confirmation of the validity of the Communist Left’s position against the impasse of the united front for the proletariat, Munis brings it to us very clearly [10]. The whole chapter, actually the whole book, is the observation – we do not use his non-political qualifier of stupid – that the bourgeois and counter-revolutionary intelligence of the socialist party, subsequently accompanied by the intelligence of the same nature of the Stalinists, has always opposed and sabotaged the supposed path to the Spanish revolution; and, by the way, it is also the bitter observation of the impotence of the group to which Munis was a member. It’s the ritual Trotskyist lament. It comes from its opportunist position in the 1930s on the Social Democratic Parties. The first two CI congresses had clearly declared their total and definitive passage into the bourgeois counterrevolutionary camp. The Left Opposition and the 4th International abandoned these two congresses – at least on this central question – and became the apostles of the first opportunist drifts of the 3rd and 4th CI congresses, which served to justify the tactics of the united front, with the catastrophic political consequences that Munis himself, honest and sincere, was forced to point out.

4) Real or Fantasized Class Struggle?

It seems useful to us to quote another passage from the book that crowns the theoretical and political disarray that the united-front tactics finally produced on the revolutionary militant Munis: "Workers’ organizations faithful to capitalism is the tragedy of the proletariat, not only Spanish but global. Without them, the system of exploitation of man by man would have long since disappeared in the darkness of history" (idem, chap. 9, we emphasize). Certainly, this statement is consistent with the Trotskyist position of the Transitional Program according to which "the present crisis in human culture is the crisis in the proletarian leadership". Actually, it reveals an idealization of the class struggle that has nothing to do with its reality. Indeed, how can a communist militant, all the more a group or the communist party, supposed to be guided by historical materialism, Marxism and its conception of the class struggle, conceive, believe, even worse imagine, hope, wish, dream, fantasize that the bourgeoisie may not use all its political weapons, and especially the most powerful ones, i.e. its left-wing political forces such as the socialist parties, against the proletariat? And finally lament and regret that the class struggle is... the class struggle, that is, above all a political struggle? And this after the revolutionary wave of 1917-1923 and the bloody failure of the workers’ insurrection in Berlin in 1919, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht’s assassinations by the ruling German Socialist Party? How can a consequent revolutionary current, or a party, be surprised and whine about the fact that the bourgeois socialist party, therefore counter-revolutionary, does not favour the path towards proletarian unity and revolution? And even sabotages it and kills the workers in struggle? There is another tragedy, theoretical and political: that of Munis and the sincere militants of the Left Opposition of that time in the face of the complete and bloody bankruptcy of their united front tactics.

Munis’ position on the united front in 1943 was clearly opposed to that of the Communist Left, particularly that of the Italian Left. We cannot go back here to the struggle waged within the CI itself since 1920 against the tactics of the united front. We refer to the Theses of Rome of the CP of Italy (1922) and the Theses of Lyon (1926) [11]. They provide a theoretical and political coherence which, even in the case of disagreement and therefore of struggle against them, can help to reflect and establish a thorough position and understanding. We invite you to discuss them among yourselves and to develop a systematic critique of these theses, at least of their parts on the united front and the slogan of ’workers’ government’, which the CI begun to use instead of ’dictatorship of the proletariat’.

We have no doubt to date that Emancipation and Nuevo Curso reject any united-front tactics. The positions taken by Nuevo Curso’s blog undoubtedly attest to this. But nevertheless, it remains a contradiction and a fundamental question with which Emancipation is confronted: was it a valid tactic to be used in the 1930s as Munis still defends it in 1943-1945? If the answer is yes, then it is necessary to explain why the united front tactic is no longer valid today, if only to ensure a minimum of homogeneity and political unity within Emancipation. If the answer is no, then a first breach opens up in the historical construction established by its congress, prematurely in our opinion and at the very least artificial at the risk of becoming a dogma.

Avoiding today the resolution, one way or another, of this issue, sweeping it under the carpet, would not resolve the contradiction. Inevitably, sooner or later, it will come back to hit Emancipation and its members hard. But in a time and situation that can only be much more difficult, even unfavourable, for its solution.

Fraternally, the IGCL.

PS. We plan to publish this letter in our next journal because of the general interest in this debate, according to us. Even, after the reading of Revolution or War 12 and the correspondence published, some readers already asked us if you were going to answer us [12]. Of course, we can also publish any of your answer that might encourage debate and confrontation on this subject. The next issue will be published in February. We could assure you of its publication if it would remain in three or four pages (liberation serif 11). If it were wider, then we could see how to publish it in a next issue or in two parts...

Bilan#1 and Trotsky : Towards the 2nd or 3/4 International?

Comrade Trotsky’s fundamental error today in no way erases the services he rendered to the cause of the proletariat, but these services in no way imply adherence to what we consider to be a capital fault. On the contrary, fidelity to Trotsky’s work manifests itself only through the struggle against his current error, because it is absolutely false that a continuity of personhood provides the guarantee for the later struggle of the revolutionary proletariat. This continuity is established, on the other hand, on the basis of political positions. It is therefore a question of seeing whether the new positions of comrade Trotsky respond, yes or no, to the necessities of the struggle of the proletariat. »

The Executive Commission of the Left Fraction of the Italian Communist Party (23 August 1933).



[1. We could not find any English version of this letter. Only in French :

[4. We have taken the ’united front’ expression rather than ’unique front’ as the French and Spanish versions utilize in the IC official texts and minutes. It appears that the ’united front’ is usually utilized in English.

[5. Jalones de derrota, promesa de victoria. As far as we know, it has only been translated to French to date.

[6. The 1947 letter signed by N. Trotsky, B. Peret and G. Munis explicitly mentions the united front tactic. It does not reject it in itself, on the merits of the question itself, but merely defends that the united front is no longer possible with Stalinism, because it is the spearhead of counter-revolution: "Stalinism is today absolutely incompatible with any proletarian democracy. Wherever revolutionary power organs appeared, from Spain to Warsaw, Paris or Milan, it hastened to destroy them. Stalinism cannot allow revolutionaries to have their say. The SP-CP-CGT united front and government model cannot in any way facilitate the creation of organs of democracy and proletarian power".

[7. Both, the Izquierda Comunista and the Bloque Obrero y Campesino, finally set up the POUM. Munis opposed this regroupment. He then, at the very beginning of the Spanish war, founded the Trotskyist Bolshevik-Leninist Spanish section.

[8. We translate from the French version, chapitre 7, Le "virage à gauche" des socialistes et leur revirement, Éditions science marxiste.

[9. Each word or ’concept’ that we have underlined in this quotation refers to a political critique of principle that the Communist Left, especially Italian, had brought against the International, and then against Trotskyist opportunism (for example against the confusion introduced between the historical slogan of ’dictatorship of the proletariat’ and that of ’workers’ government’ from the 3rd Congress). For the sake of brevity, we cannot address them, nor even identify them all, in this letter.

[10. Not to mention the incredible ’overestimation’ of the situation and the real forces and dynamics of the proletariat itself in the 1930s... while it was unable to create a communist group or party, even an extremely minority one, consistent and capable at least of orienting itself in the events. But that is another question: the relationship between the party and the class.

[11. Particularly in points 33 to 36 for the Theses of Rome and in the chapter ’Tactical Issues until the 5th Congress’ for the Theses of Lyon. If the Italian Left also used the concept of ’united front’, it had a completely different political meaning, which is made very clear in the Lyon Theses. The German-Dutch Left also rose up, in 1920 too, against the emerging tactics of the united front. Gorter’s Open Letter to Lenin and Anton Pannekoek’s World Revolution and Communist Tactics are its main texts. If the two, especially the second, can share some particular arguments with the Italian Left, their criticism of the new tactics of the CI, their fundamental understanding and positioning lie on another theoretical ground that makes them begin to open the door to what later became councilism in the 1930s. In particular, because Gorter and, less caricaturely, Pannekoek make a distinction and metaphysically oppose leaders and masses, the party and the mass of the class. We can’t develop here.

[12. Editor’s note: To date (January 2020), and although we maintain close fraternal relations, the comrades of Emancipación have never responded to our proposal for a public debate. We regret this. But no doubt it is due to another conception of political debate and confrontation, even of the fight for the party, as a moment of general political clarification in the proletarian camp, in the party in the making.