Leon Trotsky: Some Ideas on the Period and the Tasks of the Left Opposition

July 28, 1931

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 3, 1930-1931, New York 1973, p. 293-297]

  1. The revolutionary tide is now indisputable. The Communist parties are growing stronger in certain countries. The elementary flow of forces turns aside the questions of strategy and puts them in second or third place. The workers move toward the Communists as the most intransigent party. In the same direction act the economic successes in the USSR, acknowledged by an important part of the bourgeois press, and by that fact becoming even more convincing to the workers.
  1. This general political situation, even though paradoxical at first sight, strikes not only at the Right Opposition but also at the Left. That is what explains, in the last analysis, the Austrian capitulations, the lack of growth in certain countries, the weakening of activity, etc. Over and above any local, specific, and personal reason, there is a generalreason: the spontaneous upsurge which has not yet posed the questions of revolutionary strategy, which has not yet solved completely the contradictions in the position of the Comintern and of its sections at this new historical stage. It is evident that under these conditions a faction which does not simply swim with the stream but which studies the situation critically and consciously poses all the questions of strategy must inevitably be set back, for a certain time,inside this faction there will be manifested feelings of impatience which, in isolated cases, take a capitulatory form.
  1. In some situations victory is possible even with a very bad policy. With the deepening of the crisis and its prolongation, with the subsequent disintegration of the social democracy and the demoralization of the governments, the victory of the German Communist Party is not excluded,even with the policy of the Thälmann leadership. But, unfortunately, it is merely not excluded. The actual chances for such a victory are not great. Of course if the battles develop, the Left Opposition will take part in them as a not very large but as the most resolute detachment. I believe that the Left Opposition should now make a declaration, not publicbut official, on this subject: for instance, address a letter to the Central Committee of the German Communist Party stating that without renouncing a particle of its views the Left Opposition as a whole, and each of its members in particular, is ready to put its forces at the disposal of the party for any mission or task whatsoever. A declaration made in this manner, regardless of its immediate consequences, would have an educational import and would bring returns in the future.
  1. A victory in Germany would have decisive international importance. We have said that it is not excluded, even with the present leadership. But there is still a long way to go to victory. The fundamental feature of the situation in Germany, this time too, is the extreme disproportion between the acuteness of the revolutionary situation and the strength of the party. On this point Trotsky has spoken in his pamphlet about the last Reichstag elections [The Turn in the Communist International and the Situation in Germany]. The contradictions in the political situation analyzed in this pamphlet have become more acute. The party, having weakened itself for a few years by an untimely offensive, conducts an essentially defensive and waiting policy. An entirely real perspective arises: the objective situation may change in favor of the bourgeoisie before the semi-spontaneous flow of forces permits the Communist Party to advance to a decisive offensive.
  1. In Spain, the same disproportion. During the development of the revolution, on the ascendancy and favorable to the proletariat, the Comintern lets month after month escape, discloses its weakness and its bankruptcy, nurtures anarcho-syndicalism, gives the bourgeoisie the possibility of consolidating itself, and thus prepares an outcome for the revolution not in the Russian style but in the German (1918-19).
  1. I follow developments in China very little now, but there too the crying mistake of recent years — the ignoring of the real situation of the country, the negation of democratic-revolutionary tasks, the ignoring of the proletariat, the transfer of the center of gravity to the peasant war — has prepared a tragic denouement. Chiang Kai-shek begins with destroying peasant homes while the cities remain tranquil. His victory in this case threatens the Communists with a frightful extermination and a new weakening of the revolution for a prolonged period.
  1. The economic development of the USSR is now visibly entering into a critical phase. The “motley picture” of the execution of the five-year plan (according to Stalin’s expression) signifies the disruption of the proportions even within the formal framework of the plan. However, the crux of the matter lies in whether success is obtained, and in what measure, in establishing the necessary proportions between the elements of the plan and the spontaneous and semi-spontaneous processes in the economy. From the very beginning we anticipated that the accumulating contradictions and disproportions — in the absence of constant and open regulation — would break out in the third, the fourth, or the fifth year. Now this stage has drawn quite near.
  1. According to the objective conditions, we have entered into the period of revolutions and of revolutionary wars. In these conditions the Red Army is a historical factor of enormous importance. On the balance scale of history, the Red Army could prevail considerably not only over German fascism, but even more over Polish. The general situation in Europe entirely justifies a revolutionary offensive. But this poses with exceptional acuteness the question of bread, of meat, of horses, of oats and — after that — of the mood of the peasantry and also the mood of the working class. The discordant and bureaucratic planning and regulation lead, at a critical moment, to a state of affairs where the economy, powerful in its inherent possibilities, is extremely weak in actual performance.
  1. In a long-range policy one must also foresee the worst variant, especially if the likelihood of it is as great as it is under the present conditions. What is this worst variant? The German proletariat does not take power in the next period. The Spanish Communist Party does not succeed in time in measuring up to the role of leader of the working class. Capitalism benefits by a respite. Under the fascist or the “democratic” or a combined form, it pulls out of the crisis. To be sure, the declining character of capitalism cannot be overcome. But even now the temporary pacification of China can open up a parade ground for operations in grand style. A new industrial upswing can in no way be considered as theoretically excluded in advance.
  1. The period we are experiencing is characterized by the fact that capitalism has slipped down ever more deeply into the quagmire of crisis, while the Soviet Union has yielded ever-greater percentages of growth. The danger consists in the fact that the world can present, in the coming period, a picture of a contrary character up to a certain pointMore particularly: capitalism will extricate itself from the crisis and in the Soviet Union all the disproportions and contradictions that were driven in by bureaucratic pressure as revealed in Stalin’s last speech will erupt.

All that is said above naturally has a hypothetical character. Just as in economic planning one must have maximum and minimum variants, so in political prognoses one must take the best and worst variants. Analyzed above is the worst possible variant. The reality will develop somewhere between the best and the worst variant, even though, it may be feared, closer to the worst than to the best. What does this mean for the development of communism itself? A period of deep internal crisis, of criticism, of the verification of past experiences, of discussion of the past. What has the Left Opposition done effectively up to now? Very little. There is a certain amount of critical works and platforms which the Western proletariat, even its vanguard, even the vanguard of this vanguard, has not assimilated and has not tested by its own experience. In various countries there existed for years opposition groups which sometimes never had anything in common with Bolshevism and which only compromised the Left Opposition by their sympathy for it. Our work in this last period reduced itself in large measure to the purging of the ranks of the Opposition of accidental, alien, and really pernicious elements. With this, we ourselves committed not a few mistakes, which are quite inevitable and the price of learning. There is nothing astonishing in the fact that the workers did not rush headlong to the call of the Left Opposition groups in the various countries. The current revolutionary tide is in itself rewarding to the advanced workers and pushes strategical problems into the background. All this, as is said above, entirely explains why the Left Opposition, in a number of cases, finds itself outside of the mainstream of the movement. But this is to be explained as a temporary situation. The questions of revolutionary strategy will be posed in a short time in a number of countries, first in Germany or in Spain, with exceptional sharpness. A large part of what was said by the Opposition in the past, and which now appears to be forgotten — in part by the Opposition itself — will surface tomorrow, will come to life again, and will once more acquire an extraordinarily timely character.

We defend absolutely correct ideas and methods with the aid of inadequate, primitive means. The Comintern defends wrong ideas with the aid of “American” technique. But in the long run it is the correct idea that triumphs.

From this follows still another conclusion. Our strength at the given stage lies in a correct appreciation, in a Marxian conception, in a correct revolutionary prognosis. These qualities we must present first of all to the proletarian vanguard. We act in the first place as propagandists. We are too weak to attempt to give answers to all questions, to intervene in all the specific conflicts, to formulate everywhere and in all places the slogans and the replies of the Left Opposition. The chase after such a universality, with our weakness and the inexperience of many comrades, will often lead to too-hasty conclusions, to imprudent slogans, to wrong solutions. By false steps in particulars we will be the ones to compromise ourselves by preventing the workers from appreciating the fundamental qualities of the Left Opposition. I do not want in any way to say by this that we must stand aside from the real struggle of the working class. Nothing of the sort. The advanced workers can test the revolutionary advantages of the Left Opposition only by living experiences, but one must learn to select the most vital, the most burning, and the most principled questions and on these questions engage in combat without dispersing oneself in trifles and details. It is in this, it appears to me, that the fundamental role of the Left Opposition now lies.