The following letters, originally in Russian, were only recently found in the police files on Andres Nin in the National Historical Archives in Madrid (Ministerio de gobernación, policía [histórico], h.394). This material represents a significant historical discovery. Most importantly, Trotsky’s correspondence is an important political weapon for today’s revolutionary movement.
[Nin’s file contains documents ranging from 1913 until 1940. Since the letters carried no description, it is unclear whether they were requisitioned by the Republican police during the Civil War as part of the repression against the POUM, or if they fell in the hands of the Francoist police later on.]
Leon Trotsky’s unpublished letters to Andres Nin in late 1930 reveal the problems that Trotsky faced in building up the original nucleus of the International Left Opposition. Most of his extensive correspondence in this period deals with these problems. Trotsky’s struggle with Stalin and his expulsion from the Communist International attracted support from a variety of quarters, many of whom opposed Stalin, but were not in complete political agreement with Trotsky’s defence of Leninism. For them, Trotsky’s implacable support for the ideas and methods of Bolshevism was a step too far. Such elements had drifted into the Opposition, but soon came into collision with Trotsky and what he was building.
As Trotsky explains to Nin, “In 1923-24, people were expelled from different parties for the sole reason that they did not agree to immediately condemn Trotsky. Subsequently, these elements were forced to group their forces together, while having neither revolutionary traditions nor a theoretical foundation underfoot. Some of them didn’t even feel themselves part of a revolutionary organisation and soon took the opportunity to abandon it.”
The first task of Trotsky in exile was to give guidance and support to the genuine adherents of the Left Opposition in different countries. But this also meant an implacable struggle against those accidental elements which had entered the movement, a troublesome mixed bag of “aginers” that had evolved in either a reformist or sectarian direction. “Unfortunately, we have to confirm over and over again the fact that many have thrown in with us not because we are a Marxist opposition, but because we are an opposition in general, and they are either not able or not inclined to subordinate their hollow capabilities to the discipline of a serious cause”, explained Trotsky (Writings 1929-33, p. 88).
The Opposition had emerged from a fusion of different groupings, with different traditions. In France, the groups that made up the Opposition were led by Raymond Molinier and Pierre Naville. The integration of such groups proved extremely difficult, and led to a series of disputes, both political and personal. Within the French League, the heated dispute over work in the trade unions, contained in the letters, revealed an opportunist deviation towards left-reformist currents. Many of the Opposition groups were very small and isolated from the working class. An exception was the Greek group, which Trotsky comments on, which had roots in the trade unions in Athens and elsewhere. As Opposition groups tried to break out of this isolation, frictions and conflicts developed within their ranks, mainly from a layer which could not adapt to the new situation. This was the case within the French League. “The League is on the way to transforming itself from a small propaganda group, which was like a family, to a public organisation where relations are less warm, ties and duties more formal, and conflicts at times brutal”, explained Trotsky. (ibid, p.55) These disputes and splits form the basis of the correspondence between Trotsky and Nin, who Trotsky hoped would personally help in resolving some of these problems.
Given his revolutionary record, Trotsky had high hopes in Nin, who he hoped would be the key in developing the Spanish Opposition into a coherent organisation. But Trotsky was to be disappointed. On his return to Spain, Nin had sent a promising letter to Trotsky. “The conference [of the Spanish Opposition] went off well. The internal misunderstandings are eliminated”, explained Trotsky. “Nin spoke of a great success in mass meetings in Madrid and elsewhere. I believe that we will make progress in Spain.” (ibid, pp. 86-87). In fact, the misunderstandings had certainly not been eliminated, but increased and became more fundamental. Trotsky had been misinformed. Nin tended to play down differences and cover them up. He began to see the Spanish group as his own property, rather than part of an International. Instead of helping Trotsky resolve the problems of the early Opposition, Nin and his group eventually broke with Trotsky and the ILO four years later, with disastrous consequences for the Spanish Revolution.
Letter: September 13th, 1930
My dear friend!
We were all extremely pleased by the cheerful lines of the letter you sent from Berlin. I can try to catch up with you in Paris through airmail. For a long time I had longed to see you on Western European soil. Despite all the hardships of the trip, especially considering that you were travelling with your family, it is good all the same that you were able to overcome all the dangers and are now able to take on some work.
You write that you will be in Paris for no more than two or three days, and that you will quickly head to Spain. I admit I had hoped that you would have come visit me in Constantinople and spend some time with us here. I also thought you would spend a few weeks in Paris to become familiar with the state of affairs. But, on the other hand, the haste with which you want to return to Spain is quite understandable. Let us hope you don’t give our liberal general [Dámaso Berenguer] the chance to arrest you. That would be an insurmountable blow for us.
No matter how short your trip to Paris, you will, presumably, become involved in our work. A lot of good progress has been made. It is completely indisputable that we have scored successes, and many signs speak of the fact that soon quantity will turn into quality. However, we have also seen some alarming developments. The most significant are the internal frictions, especially in France. The French League now occupies a central position in the International Opposition; but the internal tensions have been passed onto other national sections. I have no doubt that while in Paris you will spend some time assessing the internal struggles in the League, and I therefore consider it necessary to express my views on this question.
What are the reasons for the polemic? Until now, the Opposition lived the life of an isolated literary-propaganda group. Now it is starting to become a political organisation. This transition from one stage to another gives rise to internal groupings, which are not always apparent to the participants themselves.
In the La Lutte de Classe group we have a very valuable asset: it is difficult in Europe nowadays to find Marxist groups with such theoretical preparation and literary talent. I place great hope in this group. But the group also has serious shortcomings, which are explained by its origins. This is a purely intellectual group, recently drawn from literary layers, lacking connections to the workers, lacking familiarity with the workers, and without experience in Party work and in the internal life of an organisation. This group, and particularly comrade Naville, is characterised by an attitude of insufficient attention to purely political and organisational questions, a tendency towards reaching conclusions hurriedly and abstractly, and a totally unacceptable sensitivity towards any criticism coming from the activists rather than his literary circle.
Comrade Molinier is characteristic of the other group; he is not a theoretician, or a literary person, but an energetic man of action, very devoted to the cause, with initiative, although sometimes excessively hot-tempered. For a long time, and despite the fact that in the realm of theory and as a writer he is far inferior to Naville, in relation to political questions, to questions of Party psychology, to organisational questions, Molinier has shown to be stronger than Naville, in any case until now, before Naville has had the chance to acquire the necessary experience. In the course of this year, Naville took the wrong position on a number of important issues, significantly hampering development, both in the French Opposition and internationally. On all of these questions, Molinier has been in the right, but he did not have sufficient literary ability and theoretical talent to defend his position. Molinier is supported by all the elements that especially value the practical and organisational aspect of our work. In other words, what we have here are not two principled tendencies, but, so to speak, two kinds of weapons in the army of the Opposition. If Naville and the literary types had shown more political maturity, they could establish a proper rapport and a proper division of labour. But unfortunately this has not been the case. Until now, the Opposition only had a “spirit”, but it has started to develop a body, and this body of the organisation has started to embarrass and annoy the literary circle, who represent the pure spirit. On every question, objection, debate, discussion – the “spirit” itself always knows better. Thus began the struggle between spirit and body. I had been counting on the fact that in the course of this conflict comrade Rosmer would maintain an attitude of tranquillity and the position of an impartial conciliator and arbitrator. Sadly, he has become involved in the struggle on the part of the literary group. This circumstance has given the conflict an unprecedented sharpness. An attempt has been made to remove Molinier from his position of leadership and even to oust him from the League. It is said that Naville has not given up on this idea and that now he is ostensibly taking steps in that direction. I don’t know to what extent this is true. In this type of struggle exaggerations on both sides are indeed inevitable. Although I wouldn’t rule out that Naville might really be trying to achieve an actual split.
Molinier is now here with me. With him has come comrade O., of whom Naville speaks very highly. Comrade O. is calm and is assessing the situation correctly, and fully understands the need for Naville and the entire group to move on, and at the same time considers that Naville is entirely wrong in this conflict. O. assuredly confirms that Molinier and his group are not looking for a split, and that they don’t want to remove Naville from a leading position. Their tasks are: a) to ensure normal and healthy internal relations in the organisation, and b) to guarantee the necessary attention to organisational, practical-agitational and political tasks. And in this case Molinier, despite his blunders, is again completely right.
After months of correspondence, Naville has still not been able to formulate his disagreements with Molinier. On the contrary, he tended to deny these differences, pointing instead to the unbearable character of Molinier, his impatience, his confusion, and so on. This type of appraisal of the struggle on Naville’s behalf is explained by the fact that Naville himself has never given an account on the origins and causes of the polemic. If he had given such an account, the struggle would have ended or, at least, would have relented.
Molinier is visiting me for the second time. From the conversations I’ve had with him, I can confirm once again that Naville is being extremely unfair and biased in his reactions. On many questions Molinier displays greater intuitiveness than Naville, and on top of that he is a person of exceptional devotion to the movement. To allow him to be ousted or thrown out would be an outright crime. I consider that our task, as well-known comrades with authority and who stand above the struggle, should be to ensure the normal and correct participation in our work of both groups following the principles of party democracy. This is what Molinier wants to do. He only wants to stop the witch-hunt directed against him and his friends. This is what is required of Naville, and of the organisation as a whole.
To this end, I asked Naville to come and visit me here. The two comrades who are already here will wait for him. I earnestly hope that Naville will come, and that we will be able to reach an agreement, especially with the assistance of authoritative comrades, including yourself of course.
Above I have already explained that comrade Rosmer has sided with Naville in the polemic. Rosmer seems to believe that I am against Naville. But in reality that is not so. If the question of ousting Naville were to be put on the table, I would come out energetically and intransigently in his defence. However, that is not the issue now. Actually, it is Naville’s group that wants to get rid of Molinier, which would deliver a terrible blow to our practical work, and, more importantly, would create a completely unacceptable and intolerable dictatorial regime of the literary group inside the League. That is why I don’t consider it possible to make any compromises on this matter.
Just a few more words on the international organisation. It now finds itself in an very weak condition. The conference held in April was very irregular and up to now no one has any exact knowledge of its resolutions. A few days ago we sent some practical suggestions to Naville. I exhort you to look through them. The crux of the matter is as follows: we need a) a leading International bureau, and b) an administrative secretariat. The bureau, unfortunately, will continue to be scattered in different countries (Rosmer, Landau, and myself). The secretariat, an organ in permanent session, should be based in Paris and act as the executive body of the International bureau. If you were to remain in Paris, or return there at some point, I would consider it completely indispensable that you enter the bureau and the secretariat. But for the near future we’ve had to abandon these plans, at least with regards to the secretariat. Here we’re proposing a secretariat with three members: Naville, comrade O, whom I mentioned above, and an Italian comrade. This secretariat, under the general supervision of the International bureau, must manage all current networks, information, etc., and edit our bulletin. In the hands of the secretariat are the immediate practical preparations of a conference of the European Opposition, with a view to organising a world conference later on.
All this work is now compromised by the internal struggles of the French League. Both groups are now recruiting like-minded people internationally. This is particularly evident among the Hungarian exiles, some of whom are now starting, inspired by the French, to sabotage a very important and valuable initiative led by two comrades who are presently here with me.
If in Paris you are drawn into all these internal affairs (and I think you should), it is essential that you listen to both sides of the argument. I would appreciate it if you could write to me in detail with your impressions.
I embrace you and all your family,
Warm greetings from all of us.
P.S. I hope you will write to me about everything you know about the USSR, the Party, the Opposition, the exiles…
Letter: October 29th, 1930
I have received your letter of October 23rd, after much anticipation and with great joy. Your long silence, of course, is perfectly understandable, and can only be explained by the reasons you specify. In the Spanish Opposition Bulletin, which comes out in New York, it is said that immediately upon your arrival, you had all sorts of trouble on the part of the domestic authorities. This is how I had explained your silence, and I am glad to see that it is not the case.
The conditions of your banishment I know only in vague terms. It would be good if you could write about it in some detail: let the description stay in my archive, it may come in handy.
The correspondence attached to your letter is of great interest to me. I ardently hope that you will send a follow up, because I am very poorly informed about these events. I beg that you tell me of all you know about the peasant uprisings and the bloody events in Ryazan. The existing accounts, coming from the second and even third hand sources, need to be verified and supplemented. Your accounts are valuable especially because they provide not only the bare facts, but also certain psychological and political nuances, of which I often do not have enough.
The complaints of the Smirnovists about how we “exposed” their ingenious plan to deceive the Party, the working class and the interests of the Opposition, is really curious. In reality, these people have tried only to deceive the Opposition and members of their own group: they wanted to create a “noble” and “revolutionary” cover for the capitalists, correctly calculating that if they sweetened the very act of surrender, in the future no one will, nor would be able to, verify whether the ones who surrendered actually fulfilled their commitments or not. And so, I eagerly await the follow up to your correspondence.
Now a few words about the affairs in France. A number of the French comrades have visited me recently, including Naville and Molinier, i.e. the most active representatives of the two groups that are in conflict. We have discussed all of the issues very thoroughly and have unanimously worked out some kind of agreement, which should facilitate further work and, in particular, the orderly preparation of the conference. The work in France is going well, but a split or even a prolonged internal struggle could paralyse the work of the League for a long time. I want to count on this not happening.
Recently, it became clear that the strongest group of the Opposition is in Greece. This you will soon find in the contents of the Opposition press. The organisation has some sway in the trade unions, counting in its ranks 500 workers and 10,000 under its influence in the trade unions.
Regarding the overall situation in the ranks of communism, and Spain in particular, I hope in the near future to read your article or series of articles in the Opposition press. What I wrote on this subject is far too general. Not being very familiar with the situation in the country, I had to rely on secondhand information which is in any case very scarce. Comrade Lacroix wrote to me at the time saying that he did not agree with some of the provisions of my article. I did not start a polemic because I did not feel sufficiently grounded to do so. As for the Spanish question, as well as other current political issues, I am planning to take them up in the near future, after I finish a history book; I hope that this will at last happen in the course of the next week. I hope to count with your help in regard to Spain. First of all, I would like to hear from you more detailed information about each of the communist groups and organisations. What is the platform of each of them? On what grounds and in connection with what circumstances were they expelled from the Party? In particular, which of these organisations is Maurín part of? For what purpose did he publish the shamelessly ignorant report by Stalin to the [conference of] Marxist agronomists?
You write that the Left Opposition is weak in Catalonia. What about the other provinces?
In your most important question on the unification of the various communist organisations, I cannot give an answer because I know nothing about any of them. In any case, this question should be addressed from an international perspective.
You probably know the Czech comrade Michalec. I have been in correspondence with him for a long time. He considers himself as a co-thinker of ours, but at the same time considers it necessary to combine all of the opposition within the same organisation. In practice, this means a union with the Right Opposition, which is a part of the international organisation of Brandler. In full accordance with our Czech friends, I spoke out against the plan. Of course, we can create our own cells in the Right Opposition, which boasts an internal regime of democracy and “free opinions”. But this work can only be successful with the complete independence of our own organisation. It would be unforgivable if we made ourselves subject to the discipline of the Right Opposition – themselves playing the role of a double opposition. In this spirit I replied to comrade Michalec. He could not convince me. In the end he did not join the Left Opposition, and is instead collaborating with the Right, working in the newspaper Neurath, where he translates some of my articles, objecting, however, to our intransigence towards the Right Opposition.
I give this example which in any case I do not use to draw any conclusions in regards to Spain, especially in the absence of the necessary facts. I just wanted to illustrate with this example the importance of international considerations for us on this question.
About my books. I will, of course, be very pleased to provide you with all the publishing rights, which you yourself will hold. This applies to my History of the Revolution. Overseeing the foreign translations is the responsibility of my German translator. I hope she has as yet to assign the Spanish edition to someone. I will send her a request about this today.
I unfortunately cannot send you How the Revolution was Armed for the moment, as I have only one copy, which for me is an absolute necessity for the continuation of my historical work. I will try to get a second copy, although it is now extremely difficult, as the Stalinists are on a crusade against my books.
By the way, has my book It Happened in Spain been published in Spanish? I received a request from the publisher to write the foreword a long time ago. In fact, the publisher cited you. I immediately complied with his request and sent him a preface by registered mail. I received no response from him. We asked for a second time about the fate of the books and the preface, but to no avail.
You paint a pretty grim sketch of the situation of the Left Opposition in the USSR. Of course, I do not myself have any illusions on this score. However just the other day we received a letter from Russia, which depicts the situation as not so bleak. The writer seems to be more familiar with the provinces than with Moscow. He wrote about growing sympathy for us in the factories and on the need for us to come out with bolder and more determined tactics.
The German magazine Der Communist has been promised your correspondence. Will you send them the same correspondence that you sent me? The fact is that I want to prepare an extract of your correspondence for the next issue of the Bulletin, since its publication as a whole would be in many ways inadvisable. But if the German edition receives the same correspondence (which I doubt), then printing the excerpts would be doubly unwanted because we could have crossed out the places where we have not written in Russian. Please give me the necessary clarification on this matter.
Your lecture “tour” in Spain is extremely interesting to me. Please write to me about this in more detail.
You do not write anything about your health. Meanwhile, if I am not mistaken, you have had a second operation after receiving my letter. What are the results? How have you settled in Barcelona? How did your family adapt to Barcelona? The children must be happy in this blessed climate. I remember our boys were delighted in Barcelona, especially with the abundance of fruit.
Cordial greetings to your wife and children from all of us.
Letter: November 21st 1930
I received your letter on November 12th with the very interesting proposal that will be very useful for the 17th number of the Bulletin. Only now, after your letter, do I have a more or less clear picture of the state of the communist ranks in Spain, in particular, the position of comrade Maurín. A few words about this. I found out through Naville that Maurín was in Paris, where he was in contact with Souvarine, and made no attempt to contact us. You know, of course, that Souvarine nowadays stands in the most bitter and treacherous opposition to us. Over a year ago, he sent me a long programmatic letter, or rather, an entire pamphlet. This work shows not only has he abandoned the ranks of Bolshevism as a political movement, but also Marxism as a doctrine. He now writes in the bourgeois press, under various pseudonyms, in defence of Stalin. All this made me very suspicious, when I heard that Maurín is related to him not only through family ties, but also politically. He made no attempt to enter into relations with us, not even in a simple comradely way, which I, of course, would have welcomed very much; and, finally, when he returned from Paris to Spain, he began to publish a newspaper, which contained articles by Stalin. Since Comrade Maurín is not a novice, has a political history, and is a highly qualified individual, I have arrived on the basis of these facts at a definite conclusion about his political position. You will, of course, know better, you have better connections and the conditions to judge, so if you express the hope that comrade Maurín will come over to our side, I can only rejoice at this in advance.
It is also quite possible that in Spain, given that the position of communist organisations and groups is so peculiar, that the best way forward would be to unite all these groups that have yet to take a concrete position, and then to develop our work within this unified organisation. But I am just not quite clear how and in what way you intend to develop this work, i.e., do you have in mind to create from the outset an embryo of the Left Opposition, which then, subject to the discipline of the unified organisation, will conduct its factional activities? I would be very grateful if you could tell me more specifically about your plans and intentions in this regard.
We have recently received several letters from deportees, including a very long letter from a detention camp. This letter presents a far more favourable picture than the one drawn on the basis of your information. The confusion in the camps has come to an end, and theoretical work is being done widely and with great optimism. This correspondence will be published in the next issue of the Bulletin, and you should examine it: it comes from a very serious person, whom I know well.
It is unlikely that you are now able to read Soviet newspapers: they will again give a slightly more optimistic picture than your correspondence. Now Pravda, as with the other newspapers, for almost a year has been filled with a furious persecution of the Opposition. The blows were directed mainly against Bukharin, Rykov, Tomsky and so on. But at the same time, with the exception of the resolutions, articles, correspondence, etc., they mention a renewal, or revival, of the boldness and so on of “Trotskyists” and “semi-Trotskyists”.
Now about the French affairs. Here we have the beginning of another conflict on the lines I always thought of as troublesome – over the trade union line. This work, as you may know, led by comrade Gourget, is actually outside the control of the League. You probably know the techniques of French groups of the Monatte type: each one takes on a certain task on the basis of some kind of mutual understanding (or indeed does not take on the task), all or some of which occasionally converge, diverge and exchange remarks. In the old days, I often saw this picture in Quai de Jemappes. These habits even partially affected Verité. The organisation is understood as a federation of free individuals whose duty is not to interfere with each other. You certainly see I am drawing a caricature of sorts, but at the same time you know this environment well enough to recognise the reality I’m referring to, jokes aside. In these circumstances, Comrade Gourget led the work of the Unitary Opposition. According to the articles and notes in Verité, and the letters of the Comrade Gourget (who we were quite correctly in correspondence with all of the time), I was fearful that he might shift the centre of gravity of all the work towards establishing a diplomatic rapport with certain individual well-established leaders of the trade union movement, particularly and especially the Teachers’ Union. During his stay in Prinkipo, Naville acknowledged that Gourget, for all his good qualities, was working more or less on the fringes of the League, and primarily in the diplomatic fashion. This is the background of the conflict.
On [October] the 20th, a conference of the Unitary Opposition was held in Paris. At this conference Gourget, together with other opposition activists, who are not members of the League, established a broad trade union opposition platform. At the meeting of the League, Molinier asked to hear Gourget’s political reasons for this, which he reluctantly explained. The platform was criticised not only by Molinier, but also Naville and Gerard, who recognised the platform as unacceptable as it was. Thereafter, Gourget stated in writing (refusing to come to the meeting in person) his resignation from the League as long as it intended to enter the Unitary Opposition. What the relationship should be between the League and the Unitary Opposition is a separate question. But in this case, it was not a question of the UO submitting to the League, but the control by the League over the work of one of its members, who was in a position of responsibility. Then, the resignation of Gourget provoked the resignation of Rosmer and resulted in a number of new tensions, difficulties and conflicts.
I have received the platform of Comrade Gourget. It is absolutely and in all respects an impossible document, both in content and form. To put the name of the League on the cover of this document would be to compromise it hopelessly. We must not forget for a moment that it is not a question of a trade union organisation platform, but the platform of a political faction within the trade unions. Gourget’s platform (or the product of his compromise) represents an eclectic and thoroughly contradictory platform of some kind of the new faction, which must compete with the League in the trade unions. In other words, this is the greatest absurdity you can imagine.
The Unitary Opposition can, of course, be joined by people who are not members of the League. The more sympathisers it has, or semi-sympathisers, who are not completely compromised, the better. In relation to all of these elements, we need to adopt the greatest tact. We need to “patiently explain”, to use a formula that you cited on another occasion. But in order to patiently explain, it is necessary that there exists a body that can give this explanation, namely, the political organization, which strictly binds together all its constituent parts. You probably remember that in the days (the beginning of April 1917), or rather on the exact day (April 4th), when Lenin put forward the formula “patiently explain”, he also addressed the Party conference: “I will stand up against all, like Liebknecht, if you make the slightest concession to defencism.” Both these formulas are inextricably linked in Lenin’s method. In order to be able to “patiently explain” to workers organised in the trade unions, we must not make the slightest concession to syndicalist theory, which in France is the most useful, authoritative, and disastrous mask for quasi-proletarian opportunism. Meanwhile, Gourget’s theses are an eclectic mix of the theory of syndicalism with communist phraseology.
If we assume that the UO has significant numbers of workers not convinced of the trade union platform of the Left Opposition, we should organise a block or broad coalition with them, based on a practical understanding, while retaining our full right to conduct propaganda for the ideas of the League. But to introduce into the League the right to control the work of their own members, as you know, is a very different thing. The fact that comrade Rosmer, as I understand it, supported Gourget, while very sad, does not come as much of a surprise to me. You know that Rosmer and I are old friends, he spent a few months with us here and I had the opportunity many times to talk to him about all matters.
The fact that he was rarely involved in the party, and that he was not active for the last five years, did not pass unnoticed. He has the same methods as those of Monatte: gather once a week to exchange experiences, without taking any decisions, letting everyone do their own thing, and letting events go their own way.
Rosmer twice wrote to me saying he felt his personal mission accomplished, that further work would be a hassle, and that he needed to give way to the youth, and so forth. I strongly resisted this mood, especially when he denied the existence of any differences of principle, both within the League, and with me. Now, however, he has resigned. I wrote a letter to him yesterday about it. If I had the slightest opportunity, I would, of course, immediately go to see him, to try to personally dispel this mood. But since this was not possible (I am including to you my letter to Rosmer), I asked him to come for a few weeks in Prinkipo to try to discuss and for us to come to an agreement. After a few days, if that proves not possible, if it is possible to separate the political issues from our personal friendship, then all the better. If Rosmer moves away from the Left Opposition, he will remain generally on the side of the revolutionary movement, as was the case in the last few years.
Here is how things stand in France. Of course, it would be better if things were not like this. But we must take the situation as it really is. The development of the Opposition in Western Europe occurred in the face of such ignorance and disunity, that random personal factors played an important and often harmful role. We see this in Germany, in Belgium, and in other countries.
In 1923-24, people were expelled from different parties for the sole reason that they did not agree to immediately condemn Trotsky. Subsequently, these elements were forced to group their forces together, while having neither revolutionary traditions nor a theoretical foundation underfoot. Some of them didn’t even feel themselves part of a revolutionary organisation and soon took the opportunity to abandon it. This latter category includes Madeline and Max Paz, and to some extent the old man Loriot. Souvarine, who not having had time to become a Marxist, became a freethinker, as I have already written above. In Germany, Urbans compromised for several years the Opposition between Social-Democracy and Sapronovism. Finally, in Belgium, Overstraten - and it was a big surprise for me - revealed himself as an impressionist and dilettante. Without a Marxist understanding, he begins each question from scratch, as a blank slate, like a political autodidact, despite his intellectual upbringing. I met Overstraten at several congresses and during two or three visits he paid me at the military commissariat. As I recall, he never spoke at congresses, and in personal conversations he listened more than he spoke. Now it is quite clear that he did not feel at ease in Lenin’s Comintern: but now he openly admits it. He has lost both theoretical and organisational discipline, and I am afraid he may no longer be able to get it back.
As the Western European Oppositionists never lived a consistent ideological and political life, did not rise to the bigger questions, did not involve themselves in the internal life of other parties, this is how all these accidental fellow travellers (Urbarns, Overstraten, Souvarine, Paz) saw themselves and appeared to others as well as to our comrades. But in essence they caused us great harm, blocking the way for the Opposition’s ideas entering the party, which they declared dead and liquidated. This approach is much easier and gives one the opportunity to live quietly in his corner, with one hour a week of oppositional discussions.
Our work abroad over the last two years was to put an end to these fictions and the proliferation of fundamental misunderstandings and to develop the foundations of the International Left Opposition. During these two years, I had spent more time clearing the ground than in building. But this was absolutely necessary preliminary work, if we take into account that the soil is very clogged, not only with the trash of the official apparatus, but also with the confusion and chaos of random and accidental oppositionist groupings. A functioning Oppositionist organisation was hardly present in any country for the last two years. The best organisation was probably the American group, precisely because it really came into being recently, receiving a strong and fresh impetus from the Sixth Congress, and not yet having become stale (you write that comrade Cannon was insufficiently active; it is possible that this is true; the most active comrades are Shachtman, Abern and generally the youth).
In view of the conditions mentioned above, I believe that for almost two years, we have made very substantial progress in all countries. We have sections and publications in about twenty countries, whose solidarity is not based on old memories and personal ties, but on the Marxist analysis of the most important world events of the last period (the era of epigonism) and on the collective orientation in the events of today. A number of books have been produced in all the major languages, which allow you to navigate the history and development of the ideas of the Opposition. Outwardly, our break with Overstraten may seem like a defeat. But if we take into account that a few dozen workers in Charleroi conducted a principled struggle with Overstraten over the last two years, and regardless of the fact that not only comrade Rosmer, but I myself defended Overstraten against them, then I would say that we have won the greatest victory in Belgium. We have discovered that there exists real proletarian cadres who are able to stand up for themselves, even against higher authorities. The fact remains that hundreds of Belgian Oppositionists were pulled in different directions, due to the formlessness of the Belgian Opposition and a totally incapable leadership. This is payback for the past. On the other hand, the workers in Charleroi are the cadre of the future and we can build with them.
I speak in so much detail about this so that new crises are put into the right perspective. In your letter, there is the following sentence: “The split in France would have been catastrophic for us.” Of course, every split has a painful character. And of course, the departure of Comrade Rosmer could be a setback for the work of Verité, and I for my part, am ready and willing to do anything to avoid this. It was in this spirit that I wrote to the French comrades and to Rosmer himself (see above). However, I must still stress that no split is catastrophic for us. I do not want to argue against your letter, as it is unlikely that you used the word catastrophic in its literal sense, but only in the sense of the sad consequences of the split, about which we have no disagreement.
The basis has been laid. But the training of cadres in the Opposition is still a huge challenge. There are the two sides of this task. First, we must learn to “patiently explain” i.e., reject the absurd arrogance of the Opposition in relation to the proletarian vanguard, i.e., especially in relation to the official Communist Parties, which in most countries represent a serious force which cannot be overlooked anywhere. To explain patiently, without falling into prostration, we need a targeted politics. But to ensure that small national groups without a sufficient theoretical basis, without traditions, without experience, are not lost in the process of patiently explaining, we need a close connection between them, constant mutual reassessment, an organised ideological control, and a double and a triple ideological intransigence. Only with a very sharp knife, can you perform complex and delicate carving.
I would like to briefly return to Spanish affairs. In my article I very carefully expressed the idea that after a few years of dictatorship, the opposition moves of the bourgeoisie, the surface noise of republicans and the demonstrations of the students must inevitably wait for the action of the workers, and this action can catch a revolutionary party by surprise. If I am not mistaken, Comrade Lacroix and others felt that I exaggerated the symptomatic importance of the student movement and together with it the prospects of the revolutionary mobilisation of the workers. Since then, the strike movement in Spain has acquired a giant scale. It is not clear who is leading these strikes. What place does the official Communist Party have in them? What is the Opposition doing? Since all groups are very weak, it would seem likely that a united communist front would be necessary, primarily dictated by the need for a common policy with respect to the general strike. Do you not think that Spain could go through the cycle we saw in Italy after 1918-19: ferment, strikes, general strikes, the seizure of factories, lack of leadership, the decline of the movement, the rise of fascism, and counterrevolutionary dictatorship? Primo de Rivera was not a fascist dictatorship of the Italian type, as it did not rely on the reactionary masses. Do you not think that as a result of this undoubtedly revolutionary upsurge in Spain, with the complete failure of the proletarian vanguard, as with the parties, there can be, and moreover in the short term, the conditions for genuine Spanish fascism? The most dangerous thing in these circumstances is lost time.
How do we deal, in particular, with the agrarian question in Spain? Is this raised by any of the parties? Was this developed theoretically? Is there work underway among the peasantry, especially among the agricultural workers?
As regards the book you have written about the “dictatorships”, I know from the French comrades, who greatly praised the the book, as well as the review of Comrade Gorkin, with whom you seem to be in disagreement, but who nevertheless gives a very high opinion about it. He said to Naville that in his, Gorkin’s opinion, as well as in the opinion of the other comrades, you have to take a leading position in the Spanish Opposition. (If I am not mistaken, he complained before to Comrade Naville that you did not want to meet with him in Paris, despite his willingness to put aside his reluctance to work under your guidance). I might be saying something incorrect, but this is the impression I have after my conversation with Naville. I would be very happy to read your book on the dictatorships; in Catalan, I would hardly understand it, but in Spanish with the dictionary in hand, I could probably make out the main lines of the argument.
I enclose here a copy of the letter from Comrade Gorkin on the Spanish edition of Permanent Revolution. The proposal being made is very favorable both politically and financially. I think that Spain is now the only country where a bourgeois publisher would be willing to pay for this kind of book: such books are in demand thanks to the revolutionary ferment. I have not replied yet to Comrade Gorkin, as I previously wrote to him saying that [the rights of] the book had been transferred to you. In your letter you mention Permanent Revolution, but in a different context, following my articles in the bourgeois press, and so on. It seems to me that the immediate appearance of Permanent Revolution would have a much greater significance than the antiquated articles in the bourgeois press, which also have less importance with the appearance of my Autobiography. I would advise you to change the sequence [of publication] and start with the Permanent Revolution, so as it will come out before the History of the Revolution, which represents a larger volume. If you think it more appropriate to proceed immediately with the History of the Revolution, then what about the Permanent Revolution?
Unfortunately, as strange as it may seem, my German translator, who is at the same time my “literary agent”, as the Americans say, has still not answered my question about the Spanish translation. I can’t explain it and have again sent her an urgent request. But this does not alter the situation. Even if we assume (which is unlikely), that she has signed an agreement with a Spanish publishing house without my prior consent, I still need the translation to be made not from the German, but from the Russian text, and will demand that they employ you on as the only competent translator. But I believe the agreement has not been concluded. In any case, it is necessary that you reply to me soon.
If you take on the Permanent Revolution, I will send you a Russian copy and the preface that is not included in the Russian edition of the book, but printed in the Gazette under the title “Two Concepts”. If you take over the History of the Revolution, I will send you the Russian manuscript.
You say that Landau has announced [the publication of] your correspondence without your consent. But in that case, how does he have your correspondence? Or did he simply write them using your words? Or did you send him a copy of the letters that you sent me? If so, I am very fearful that Landau, who is hasty and careless, might print some things that we will publish in the Russian Bulletin, which will create an extremely unpleasant situation. It would be good if you could write to him, stating that he may print your correspondence but only in the form in which it appears in the Bulletin. We can send, say, the Russian version of the text to him before the release of the Bulletin.
[Written by hand, some parts are illegible:]
I am very concerned about your financial situation. Unfortunately, I am now without money. The ‘’Autobiography’’, apart from in Germany, reached [illegible] results. The French publisher deceived me all around (well, from Spain, I .... for one of the ... ... I have not received yet). The Americans also robbed me, to round off a big hit.
(I donated $10,000 in the fund in Paris.)
However, what I can offer you is unfortunately very little:
- Mararita P. wrote to me about your gift from the fund: do not give way at the moment, I will not cover this.
- Fees (author’s) for the “Permanent” I grant [illegible] to you: if you [ineligible] for the transfer, with the [illegible] your [...] of course [...] pay. All this is very little, but as soon as [...] the question of the ‘’History’’, I will try to do more.
I firmly shake your hand, warm greetings to your family from all of us.
Letter: November 29th, 1930
Dear Comrade Nin,
I am hurrying to write to you some additional notes further to my previous letter, as I consider (I hope you share this feeling) the unity of our positions and actions necessary.
I have written to you quite extensively about my worries regarding Comrade Rosmer and about my letter to him; if you remember, I asked him, in case of any political disagreements, to come and see me, given the complete impossibility of me travelling to see him. This letter was preceded by the message about the resignation of Comrade Rosmer and the removal of his name from the paper as chief editor. In the last edition (a very good one, with 6 pages), his name is indeed absent. But then I received the following telegram from him: “neither resignation, nor political disagreements.” You can understand how much this telegram pleased me.
I must, however, say that I am not completely sure that this telegram signifies the complete elimination of all misunderstandings. I have already written to you about Comrade Rosmer’s highly negative attitude towards personal, rather than political questions. Nothing can be done against personal sympathies or antipathies, assuming that they are not placed above political considerations. Unfortunately, this very question has long transcended the sphere of personal relations and become political, because Comrades Rosmer, Naville and others have attempted, several months prior to the removal of Molinier from the position of secretary of the Parisian organisation, not to allow him into the leadership of the League. At that time they suffered an organisational defeat, since the majority spoke in favour of Molinier. I only found out about this whole story through backdoor channels from Comrade Naville and others, who to my surprise, demanded that I intervene personally against Molinier. To be able to find my bearings, I asked for the political reasons for this.
The answer I received was that the question was purely personal. However, when I then attempted to thoroughly and properly understand all the sides of the conflict, I came to the conclusion that behind the personal conflicts lie a struggle between two embryonic tendencies. The trade union question, about which I wrote to you last time, has become intertwined with personal conflicts, in the sense that, on the one hand, Comrade Gurzhe, a member of Rosmer’s and Naville’s group, took an entirely mistaken position, while Molinier took the correct stance. In order for you to understand the matter fully, I must tell you that Gurzhe and Molinier came to visit me together, as soon as I arrived in Constantinople. In fact, Gurzhe spoke not only positively about Molinier, but in enthusiastic terms, as of a loyal and selfless comrade, but not without a degree of “giddiness”.
Over the last few months, I was compelled to recall that on all those occasions when Molinier disagreed with Naville or Gurzhe, Molinier was always more in the right than his adversaries. Under these circumstances, I had no grounds or rights to come out against Molinier. I therefore made efforts to bring about conciliation, which was very time consuming. It is unfortunate that the League in Paris has officially ratified “the peace of Prinkipo”. That’s why the telegram: “neither resignation nor political differences”, pleased me, but did not completely reassure me.
I also remembered that a certain part of your letter remained unclear to me. Namely, the very part where you talk about the backwardness of Spanish workers and of the necessity to familiarise them preliminarily with the fundamental ideas of communism before turning to the question of Left Opposition. This position can give grounds for misunderstandings. I am very willing to admit in advance that these misunderstandings can be entirely my fault, that is, that they might be the result of excessive pedantry on my part.
I must admit I cannot imagine that I could give a lecture to the most backward of workers about communism, without simultaneously raising the question of the Left Opposition. In Spain, this is surely inevitable due to the existence of an official party with several opposition groups around it: the speaker would have to repeatedly explain why he is calling to support one party and not the other. In every workers’ meeting one can stumble upon a socialist or an anarcho-syndicalist who would point to the split among the communists, or that within the USSR communists are being arrested, that Rakovsky has been exiled to Siberia, Trotsky has been exiled, etc. It is not possible to brush aside these questions by dint of general formulas on Marxism and communism.
Whenever a member of the Left Opposition tries to do this under the pressure from the official communists or the socialists and anarchists, he is put on the defensive - the most disadvantageous of positions. If I was giving a lecture about communism to the most backward of workers in Spain or elsewhere, I would clear the path before me from the very beginning with a statement that would go more or less like this: “There are several different tendencies in communism. I belong to a particular one, and will state how this tendency looks at the tasks of the working class.” To conclude, I would call upon the workers to join the organisation that supports my point of view. Without this, propaganda and agitation will acquire an academic character, would lose its organisational basis and in the final analysis will help our opponents, that is, the centrists or the rightists.
Forgive me for stating such elementary things with such perseverance. My main goal was pointed out previously: clarity.
I didn’t receive a reply from the German translator. Expecting an answer from you.