Marxists and the British
The 'Open Turn' debate
Principled Considerations On Entry
(September 16, 1933)
To the British Section, Bolshevik-Leninists London, England
I have not yet received your letter in which you motivate your negative attitude to the entry into the Independent Labour Party. But, so as not to delay this matter, I shall try to examine the principled considerations for and against the entry. If it should happen that your letter contains additional arguments, I shall write you again.
In its present state, the Independent Labour Party is a left-centrist party. It consists of a number of factions and shadings that are indicative of the different stages of evolution from reformism to communism. Should the Bolshevik-Leninists enter into the official Communist Parties, which they had long designated, and with full reason, as centrist organizations?
For a number of years, we have considered ourselves Marxist factions of centrist parties. A categorical answer—yes, yes; no, no—is insufficient also in this case. A Marxist party should, of course, strive to full independence and to the highest homogeneity. But in the process of its formation, a Marxist party often has to act as a faction of a centrist and even a reformist party.
Thus the Bolsheviks adhered for a number of years to the same party with the Mensheviks. Thus, the Third International only gradually formed itself out of the Second.
Centrism, as we have said more than once, is a general name for most varied tendencies and groupings spread out between reformism and Marxism. In front of each centrist grouping it is necessary to place an arrow indicating the direction of its development: from right to left or from left to right.
Bureaucratic centrism, for all its zigzags, has an extremely conservative character corresponding to its social base: the Soviet bureaucracy. After a ten-year experience, we came to the conclusion that bureaucratic centrism does not draw nearer and is incapable of drawing nearer to Marxism, from the ranks of which it emerged. It is precisely because of this that we broke with the Comintern.
While the official Communist Parties have been growing weaker and decomposing, left flanks have separated from the reformist camp, which has grown considerably in numbers. These flanks also have a centrist character, but they move towards the left and, as demonstrated by experience, are capable of development and yield to Marxist influence. Let us recall once more that the Third International originated from organizations of this sort,
A clear example of the above is furnished by the history of the German SAP. A few hundred communists who split off from the Brandlerist opposition aria entered the SAP have succeeded in a comparatively short time in placing themselves at the head of this organization, which, for the most part, consists of former Social Democratic members.
At that time we criticized the group of Walcher-Froelich, Thomas and others not because they resolved to enter a left-centrist party, but because they entered it without a complete program and without an organ of their own. Our criticism was and remains correct. The SAP bears even now traces of shapelessness.
Some of its leaders even now consider irreconcilable Marxist criticism as "sectarianism." In reality, however, if the Left Opposition with its principled criticism had not been standing at the side of the SAP, the position of the Marxists within the SAP would have been incomparably more difficult; no revolutionary group can live without a constantly creative ideological laboratory. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the movement of the centrist party (SAP) to the left was so decisive that the communist group, even without a complete program and without an organ of its own, found itself very soon at the head of the party.
The history of the SAP is neither a chance one nor an exceptional one. For a number of years the Comintern prevented by its policy the going-over of the Socialist workers to the revolutionary road. A mass of explosive material accumulated, therefore, in the camp of reformism. The frightful crisis of capitalism and the Triumphal march of fascism, accompanied by the absolute impotence of both Internationals, gave the left-centrist organizations an impulsion towards communism; this is one of the most important prerequisites for the creation of new parties and of a new International.
In the area of theory, the Independent Labour Party is completely helpless. This gives an advantage to the official Communist Party—herein lies the danger. This opens up the field for the intervention of our British section. It is not sufficient to have correct ideas. In a decisive moment one must know how to show one's strength to the advanced workers. As far as I can judge from here, the possibility for influencing the further development of the Independent Labour Party as a whole is not yet missed. But in another couple of months, the Independent Labour Party will have completely fallen between the gear wheels of the Stalinist bureaucracy and will be lost, leaving thousands of disappointed workers. It is necessary to act and to act immediately.
It is worth entering the Independent Labour Party only if we make it our purpose to help this party, that is, its revolutionary majority, to transform it into a truly Marxist party. Of course, such an entry would be inadmissible if the Central Committee of the Independent Labour Party should demand from our friends that they renounce their ideas, or the open struggle for those ideas in the party.
But it is absolutely admissible to take upon oneself the obligation to fight for one's views on the basis of the party statutes and within the limits of party discipline. The great advantage of the Left Opposition lies in the fact that it has a theoretically elaborated program, international experience and international control. Under these conditions, there is not the slightest basis for the fear that the British Bolshevik-Leninists will dissolve without a trace in the Independent Labour Party.
Some comrades point out that the Independent Labour Party has greatly weakened, that behind the old front a ramshackle structure hides itself. This is very possible. But this is not an argument against entry. In its present composition, it is clear, the Independent Labour Party is not viable. It is getting weaker and is losing members not only on the right but also on the left, because its leadership has no dear policy and is not capable of imbuing the party with confidence in its strength.
It is possible to stop this further disintegration of the Independent Labour Party only by imparting to it Marxist views on the problems of our epoch, and in particular a Marxist analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Only the Bolshevik-Leninists can do this work. But to do this they must courageously destroy the wall that divides them today from the revolutionary workers of the Independent Labour Party.
If the apparatus of the Independent Labour Party should not admit our section into the ranks of its party, this would be the best proof that the leadership has completely submitted to the Stalinist bureaucracy behind the back of the party. In this worst case we would acquire a strong weapon against the leaders and would gain the sympathy of the rank-and-file members of the Independent Labour Party.
It may be objected that the small size of our British section would not permit it to play the same role with regard to the ILP that the group of Walcher-Froelich played with regard to the SAP. Possibly. But even if the Independent Labour Party is doomed to disintegrate, the Bolshevik-Leninists can save for the revolution an important kernel of this party. It must also not be forgotten that the group of Walcher-Froelich was completely isolated, while our British friends can count on international help in their work.
I am very much afraid that our British friends, at least some of them, are restrained from entering the Independent Labour Party by the fear of malicious criticism of the Stalinists. There is nothing worse in revolutionary policy than to be actuated by purely external, superficial criteria or by the fear of public opinion of the bureaucracy only because we were connected with it in the past.
It is necessary to determine one's road in accordance with the deep currents within the proletarian vanguard, to trust more in the power of one's ideas without looking back at the Stalinist bureaucracy.
G. Gourov [Leon Trotsky)