On The Question of Trotsky, Bordiga

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1925 article by Amadeo Bordiga in solidarity with Trotsky who, at that time, was under attack from the Russian party leadership.


The discussion, which was recently concluded with the measures adopted by the EC and the Control Commission of the Communist Party of Russia against Comrade Trotsky1, was based exclusively on the preface written by Trotsky to the third volume of his book “Writings from 1917” (published in Russian a few months ago), dated 15 September, 1924.

The discussion on the economic policy and the internal life of the party in Russia which had previously put Trotsky in opposition to the CC, was completed by the decisions of the XIIIth Congress of the party and Vth Congress of the International; Trotsky did not reopen it. In the present polemic, other texts are referred to, like the speech to the Congress of veterinary surgeons and the brochure On Lenin; but the first dates from July 28 and had not raised any polemic at that time, when the delegations of the Vth Congress were still present in Moscow; the second, written well before, had been widely quoted in the communist press of all the countries without meeting the least objection from any party organs.

The text of the preface around which the discussion is raging is not known to the Italian comrades. The international communist press did not receive it, and consequently, not having this text nor any other by Trotsky to support these theses, it published only articles against this preface. The article by the editorial board of Pravda which at the end of October opened the polemic against Trotsky was published in appendix by L´Unità. As for the preface itself, a summary of it appeared in Italian in Critica Fascista, n° 2 and 3 of January 15 and February 1 of this year, and the beginning was reproduced by L’ Avanti! of January 30. The complete preface was published in French in the Cahiers du bolchevisme, the review of the French Communist party, n° 5 and 6 of 19 and December 26, 1924.

The preface of “1917” deals with the lessons of the Russian October from the point of view of the role of the revolutionary party relative to its historical task in the final struggle for the conquest of power. Recent events in international politics posed the following problem: objective historical conditions for the conquest of power by the proletariat being realized, namely the instability of the regime and apparatus of the bourgeois State, the élan of the masses towards struggle, the orientation of broad proletarian layers towards the Communist party, how can we ensure ourselves that this answers the necessities of the battle, just as the Russian party responded in October 1917, under Lenin’s leadership?

Trotsky presents the question in the following manner: experience teaches us that at the moment of the supreme struggle two currents tend to be formed in the Communist party; one which understands the possibility of armed insurrection or the need for not delaying it; and another which, at the last moment, under the pretext that the situation is not ripe, that the relationship of forces is not favourable, propose the suspension of the action and assume a non-revolutionary and Menshevik position in practice.

In 1923 the latter tendency was on top in Bulgaria at the time of Tsankov’s coup d’état, and in October in Germany, where it determined the abandonment of the struggle which could have brought us success. In 1917, this tendency appeared within the Bolshevik party itself, and if it was beaten it was thanks to Lenin, whose formidable energy imposed on the hesitant the recognition that the situation was revolutionary; and their submission to the supreme order to start the insurrection. We should study the conduct, in 1917, of the right opposition against Lenin in the Bolshevik party and compare it with that of the adversaries of struggle which appeared in our ranks in Germany in 1923 and in other similar cases. The language of those who advocate the suspension of the struggle and their political positions are in both cases so similar that it raises the question as to measures to be taken in the International to make the truly Leninist method prevail in decisive moments, so as not to abort the historic occasions of the revolution.

The most important conclusion which arises, in our opinion, from the efficacious analysis to which Trotsky subjects the preparation and conduct of the October struggle in Russia, is that the hesitations of the right do not arise solely from an error in the evaluation of forces and in the choice of the moment for action, but especially from a true incomprehension of the principle of the revolutionary process in history: it believes that it can use another way than that of the dictatorship of the proletariat for the construction of socialism, which is contrary to the vital content of revolutionary Marxism supported and historically realized by Lenin’s titanic effort.

Indeed, the group of leading comrades of the Bolshevik party which was opposed to Lenin not only sustained that it was still necessary to wait; but it opposed to the Leninist watchwords – Socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, All power to the Soviets, Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly – other formulas, such as a combination of Soviets and a democratic Parliament, a government of “all the socialist parties”, i.e. of a coalition of Communists and Social-democrats, and these, not as transitory tactical expedients, but as the permanent forms of the Russian revolution. Thus two principle conceptions were in opposition: on the one hand, the Soviet dictatorship led by the communist party, i.e. the proletarian revolution in all its powerful originality and which is in historical dialectical opposition to the bourgeois-democratic revolution of Kerensky, which is the Leninist conception; and on the other hand to push leftwards, to deepen and defend against the foreigner the revolution of the people against tsarism, i.e. the success of the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie.

Trotsky, splendid and without equal among those alive in the synthesis of experiences and of revolutionary truths, remarks with finesse that during revolutionary periods the reformists leave the terrain of purely formal socialism, i.e. the perspective of victory for the proletarian class by bourgeois-democratic and legal means, for the pure and simple ground of bourgeois-democracy while becoming defenders and direct agents of capitalism. In parallel to this a right wing of the revolutionary party will take its place in the vacuum left by the reformists, limiting itself in practice to call for a “true proletarian democracy” or something similar, even though the time has come to proclaim the bankruptcy of all democracies and go over to armed struggle.

This evaluation of the attitude of those Bolsheviks who, thus, abandoned Lenin is undoubtedly very serious, but it follows from Trotsky’s account through quotations, which have not been refuted, of the declarations of the rightists themselves and those of Lenin in response. It is necessary to raise this problem, since we do not have Lenin with us any longer, and since without him, we have lost our October revolution in Berlin, a fact of such international historical significance that it obviates any concern for the tranquillity of internal life. Trotsky considers this problem in an identical way to that which the left of the Italian delegation maintained at the 5th Congress: one cannot liquidate the German error by allotting it to the right-wing which lead the German party; it shows us the need for revising the international tactic of the International and to re-examine its mode of internal organization, its way of working and of preparing for the tasks of the revolution.

The divergences in the Bolshevik Party on the eve of the revolution can be understood on the basis of a series of vigorous interventions of Lenin to rectify the line and to eliminate the hesitations. In his letter from Switzerland, Lenin had already undertaken this work. From the moment of his arrival he places himself resolutely against defencism, i.e. against the attitude supported by “Pravda”, among others, which pressed the workers to continue the war against Germany, to save the revolution. Lenin affirmed that we will only have to defend the revolution when the party of the proletariat, and not the opportunists agents of the bourgeoisie, have come to power.

It is known that the watchword of the Bolshevik party had hitherto been that of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”. Trotsky does not claim in his text that this formula is false, that it has failed historically and that Lenin substituted for it a formula equivalent to that of “permanent revolution”, which has been argued at other times by Trotsky and his friends.

Quite to the contrary, Trotsky asserts the accuracy of this formula which the revolutionary genius of Lenin conceived and applied, i.e. as a tactical and agitational slogan to be used before the fall of tsarism. And this is what actually occurred, since after tsarism, we do not have a pure bourgeois parliamentary democracy, but a duality between a weak bourgeois parliamentary state and the soviets, nascent organs of power of the proletariat and the peasantry.

But from the opening of this phase, where history confirmed the accuracy of the Leninist conception of the revolution, Lenin passes immediately – in the political orientation of party, if not in the external succession of propagandistic formulations – to a more advanced position in preparation for the second and veritable revolution, of the march towards the soviet and socialist dictatorship of the proletariat through armed insurrection, of course always guiding the peasant masses in their struggle for emancipation from the feudal agrarian regime.

Trotsky was insistent on the problem of the incomprehension of the true strategic genius of Lenin by even those who, like so many of our Italian maximalists, are constantly invoking his theory and his practice of the “compromise” and of elastic manoeuvres. Lenin manoeuvred, but the manoeuvre never lost sight of the supreme objective. For others, the operation too often becomes the aim in itself and paralyses the possibility of revolutionary action, while in Lenin we see this suppleness giving way to the most implacable rigidity in his desire for the revolution and to destroy its enemies and saboteurs.

Lenin himself, in passages quoted by Trotsky, stigmatizes this incapacity to adapt to new revolutionary situations, and the fact of taking a polemical formulation, essential to the Bolsheviks at the previous time, as the ultimate word in their later policy. It is the grand question of the communist tactic and of its dangers, which we have discussed for years, even outside of the sphere of the conclusions necessary to draw to prevent all dangerous sleight-of-hand corruption of the real revolutionary contents of Lenin’s instructions.

Trotsky explains why for Lenin it has always been clear that after having passed through the transitional stage of the democratic dictatorship, i.e. by a petit-bourgeois phase, the Russian revolution would arrive at the phase of integral communist dictatorship, even before the advent of socialism in the Occident. When they recommended a coalition workers’ government and condemned the insurrectionary struggle, the rightists showed that they had adopted the Menshevik position according to which, even after having been liberated from tsarism, Russia had to await the victory of the socialist revolution in other countries before going beyond the forms of bourgeois democracy. In his preface Trotsky vigorously condemns this very characteristic error of anti-Leninism.

These questions were heatedly discussed by the party at the time of the April 1917 conference. From this moment on Lenin never ceases to forcefully reaffirm the perspective of the seizure of power. He denounces parliamentary deceit, later he castigates as “shameful” the decision of the party to take part in the “pre Parliament” – the provisional democratic assembly convened while waiting for the elections to the Constituent Assembly. After July, while following the evolution of the orientation of the masses with the greatest attention, and while understanding the need for a self-imposed waiting period after the “test” and reconnaissance of the failure of the insurrection missed in the same month, he warns his comrades against the trap of Soviet legalism.

In other words, he says that one should not bind ones hands by pushing back the fight, not only to the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, but also to that of the second Congress of Soviets and to the decisions of its majority which could continue to be in opportunist hands after the hour had sounded for the armed overthrow of the democratic government. It is known that at a certain time he declared that he would lead the party to power even without the Soviets, the reason for which certain rightists accused him of being “Blanquist”.

And Trotsky (upon whom the imbecilic champions of democracy would like to base themselves against the dictatorial theses of the Bolsheviks) once again instructs the European comrades not to make a fetish of majority, including within the Soviets: our Great Elector is the rifle in the hands of the insurgent worker, who does not dream of depositing a paper ballot but of striking the enemy.

That is not opposed to the Leninist conception of the need for having the masses on our side and the impossibility of substituting their revolutionary action by that of a handful of resolute men. But, when we have the masses with us, it is necessary, and this is the argument under discussion here, that a party or a military leadership does not prevent their struggle by diversions or hesitations. We can await the masses, and this is our duty, but the party cannot make the masses wait, under penalty of causing defeat. Here is the method of formulating the terrible problem which weighs upon us, since the bourgeoisie, in full crisis, still remains untoppled.

On October 10, 1917 the Central committee of the Bolshevik party decides on the insurrection. Lenin has won.

But the decision is not unanimous. The following day the dissidents send a letter to the principal party organizations on “the actual situation” which denounces the decisions of the majority, declares the insurrection impossible and defeat certain. On October 18 they write a new letter against the decision of the party. But on October 25 the insurrection is victorious and the Soviet government installed in Petrograd. On November 4, after the victory, the opponents of Lenin resign from the Central Committee to have the freedom to appeal to the party to support their theses: that one should not, as Lenin sustains, constitute a government of the party, but to make use of the power conquered to form a government of all the Soviet parties, i.e. with the right Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries represented in the Soviets. It is also necessary to convene the Constituent Assembly and to let it function; these positions are defended including in the Central Committee, until the line of Lenin prevailed which the Constituent Assembly is say dispersed by the red guards.

The history of these dissensions is quite short. The comrades in question “recognized their error”. This is as it should be and it is not a question of cuffing these comrades around a bit. But it was inevitable that they would recognize their error, faced with the victory of the revolution and its consolidation – unless they were to pass directly into the camp of the counter-revolution. There remains the problem in all its gravity which flows from this simple observation: if Lenin had been in a minority in the Central Committee, if the insurrection had failed because mistrust towards it became widespread on account of the initial distrust of a section of its leaders, those would have held exactly the same discourse which the comrades in charge of the leadership of the German Party had at the time of the crisis of October 1923. What Lenin managed to conjure up through entreaty in Russia, the International could not conjure in Germany. In these conditions, if the International wants to really live in the tradition of Lenin, it must make certain that it doesn’t find itself in this situation again: history is not generous with revolutionary occasions, and to allow them to pass by involves painful consequences which we all know about and all suffer from.

The comrades should take into account that the contents of the debate are not to be found entirely in the reasons advanced in the public motion which blames Trotsky, nor in the polemical arguments repeated and summarized by the author of articles signed A.P. Concerning comrade Trotsky, the problems which were raised come back to what I have set forth; but it is true that the other side has responded by putting the political activity undertaken by the comrade Trotsky throughout his life on trial. There is talk of a “Trotskyism” which has existed continuously against Leninism from 1903 until today, and which always existed in the form of a rightist struggle against the positions of the Bolshevik party. This is how disagreements are poisoned, but worse, this diverted the discussion by eluding the vital problem posed by Trotsky in the passages on which we have reported.

I will say only a few words on the charges hurled against Trotsky coming out of the questions raised in his foreword.

There was a Trotskyism between 1903 and 1917; it was in fact an attitude of centrism halfway between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, rather confused and theoretically doubtful, oscillating in practice from right to left, and which was duly fought by Lenin without too much discomfiture, as was his habit vis-a-vis his opponents. In none of his writings from 1917 onwards, that is to say since his adhesion to the Bolshevik party, did Trotsky return to assert or defend his positions of that epoch. He recognizes them as erroneous: in his last letter to the Central committee he says that he “regards Trotskyism as a tendency which disappeared a long time ago”. There are only accusations of him having spoken of “errors in organization”.

But one should not seek the rupture of Trotsky with his anti-Leninist past in a legal act of abjuration, but in his efforts and his writings from 1917 on. In his preface, Trotsky makes a point of showing his complete agreement with Lenin before and during October; but he refers explicitly to the period which followed the February revolution, and he observes that before even returning to Russia, in articles written in America he had expressed opinions comparable with those of Lenin in his letters from Switzerland. He never thought of trying to hide that it is he, who, faced with the lesson of history, moved on to Lenin’s terrain, whereas previously he had wrongly combated him.

Trotsky discusses with all the right and position as member of the Bolshevik party who reproaches the right-wing of his party for having an attitude which repeats the same Menshevik errors of the revolutionary period. The fact of having been, in the period previous to the revolution and the supreme struggle, unscathed by such errors and at Lenin’s side, of his school, gave only greater responsibilities to Lenin’s lieutenants to genuinely support the action and not to fall into rightist errors.

It is thus to completely reverse the terms of the debate, based on partial information, to allot to Trotsky’s thesis in the foreword of “1917”, the position according to which the proletarian revolution was impossible in Russia before it took place in other countries, since it is on the contrary a critique which states that this position was at the root of the errors of the right.

If we admit that there is a new Trotskyism, which is not the case, no link could attach it to old. In any event the new Trotskyism would be left, while the old one was from the right. And between the two ranges the magnificent communist activity of Trotsky against the opportunist social-democrats, besides this was recognized without hesitation as rigorously Bolshevik by all other collaborators of Lenin.

Where is the polemic of Lenin against opportunism better assisted than in the writings of Trotsky? And it is enough to cite only one of them: “Terrorism and Communism”. In all the congresses of the Russian party, of the Soviets, of the International, Trotsky has submitted reports and speeches which trace in a fundamental manner the policy of Communism in recent years; and they were never opposed to those of Lenin on the key questions: never, absolutely, if we speak about the International Congresses, for which Trotsky always prepared the official proclamations, in which he divided, step by step, with Lenin, the polemics and the body of work achieved to consolidate the new International in disencumbering it of opportunist residues.

During this period of time no other interpreters of Lenin have reached the surety of conception of Trotsky on the fundamental questions of doctrine and of revolutionary policy, whereas he had had risen to the level of the Master in the effectiveness, the precision of the presentation, and the explanation of these questions, in discussion and propaganda.

I do not want to even speak about the role taken on by Trotsky as a leader in the revolutionary struggle and in political and military defence of the revolution, because I do not have either the need or the intention to make his apology; but I believe that this past must be called upon to underline the injustice that there is in exhuming the old judgement of Lenin on Trotsky’s love of the “left revolutionary phrase”, an insinuation that it is best to reserve for those who showed that they can only see revolutions from afar, and perhaps most Western “ultra-Bolsheviks’.

It is said that Trotsky represented the petit-bourgeois elements during the preceding discussion in the party. We can’t take up all the contents of this discussion, but it should not be forgotten: firstly, that with regard to the economic policy of the republic, the majority of the party and of the Central Committee took up the proposals of Trotsky and the opposition; secondly, that the opposition had a heterogeneous composition and that in the same way that one cannot allot to Trotsky the opinions of Radek on the German question, similarly it is inaccurate to allot to him those of Krassin and others in favour of more wide-ranging concessions to foreign capital; thirdly, that in the question of the internal organization of the party, Trotsky did not support systematic splitting and decentralization, but a Marxist conception of discipline, neither mechanical, nor stifling. The need for examining this important matter more clearly becomes more urgent with each passing day and besides would require a separate exposé. But the insinuation that Trotsky was made the spokesperson of petit-bourgeois tendencies is destroyed by the charge according to which he underestimated the role of peasants in the revolution compared to that industrial proletariat – another free axis of the polemic, whereas Lenin’s agrarian theses found a disciple and a faithful partisan in Trotsky (on this subject Lenin wasn’t at all defensive in saying that he had stolen the program of the Socialist-revolutionists). All these attempts to lend anti-Bolshevik features to Trotsky do not persuade us at all.

After the revolution Trotsky was opposed to Lenin, on the question of the of the Brest-Litovsk peace and about State trade unionism. They are undoubtedly important questions, but they are not sufficient to qualify other leaders who had the same positions as Trotsky at the time as anti-Leninists. It is not on partial errors of this kind on which one can build a complex assembly to make of Trotsky our Antichrist with flurries of quotations and anecdotes where the chronology as well as the logic are upside down.

It is also said that Trotsky is in dissension with the International on the analysis of the world situation, that he considers it with pessimism, and that the facts have contradicted his forecast of a democratico-pacifist phase. It is a fact that he was entrusted with the mandate to write the Manifesto of the Vth Congress on precisely this subject, and that this was adopted with unimportant modifications. Trotsky speaks about the pacifist phase as a “danger” against which Communists must react by underlining, during these democratic periods, the inevitability of the civil war and the alternative between two opposite dictatorships. As regards pessimism, it is precisely he who denounces and fights the pessimism in others, in affirming, as Lenin said of October, that if one lets pass the opportune moment for the insurrectionary struggle, there follows an unfavourable period: the situation in Germany has confirmed this analysis only too well.

Trotsky’s schema on the world situation does not merely restrict itself to seeing the installation of left-bourgeois governments everywhere; it is on the contrary a profound analysis of the forces at play in the capitalist world, which no declaration of the International currently actually calls into question, based on the fundamental thesis of the insurmountability of the current capitalist crisis.

Anti-Bolshevik elements are ready to support Trotsky. Obviously, they must be delighted at the official assertion according to which one of our major leaders is supposed to have rejected our fundamental political positions, that he is against the dictatorship and for the return to petit-bourgeois forms, etc. But already the bourgeois press have recognized that there was nothing there to hope for, that Trotsky more than any other is against democracy and for the relentless violence of the revolution against its enemies.

If bourgeois and social-traitors really hope that Trotsky undertakes a revision Leninism or Communism in their direction, it will be at their expense. Only the silence and the inaction of Trotsky could give some probability to these lies, to these speculations of our enemies. For example, the foreword which is in question was published, undoubtedly, by a fascist review; but the editors were forced to announce at the end of the text that, unfortunately, no one on earth could think that the opinion of the review could be further away from that of Trotsky. And “Avanti!” simply makes everyone laugh when it speaks in praise of Trotsky, while at the same time it publishes the passage where, to support his theses, it cites the Italian case as a demonstration of the failure of the revolution because of the inadequacy of the parties, while thus referring precisely to the socialist party!

The German rightists accused of Trotskyism object that this is not true, because they support exactly the opposite of what Trotsky wrote: the impossibility of revolution in Germany in October 1923. Moreover the alleged solidarity of the other side can never be used as an argument in order to establish our positions. This is what this experience has taught us.

Trotsky must be judged on what he says and what he writes. Communists should not make questions of people; if some day Trotsky betrayed, he would have to be unmasked and scorched without regard. But one should not be convinced of treason by the excesses of his contradictors or their privileged position in the debate. All the accusations about his past are bowled over by the simple observation that they have all been provoked by his foreword to “1917” which does not refer to this question at all, whereas previously these attacks were not considered to be necessary.

The polemic against Trotsky left the workers with a feeling of sorrow and produced a smile of triumph on the lips of our enemies. So good, we want friends and enemies to know that even without and against Trotsky the proletarian party could live and overcome. But as long as the conclusions are those to which the debate leads today, Trotsky is not the man to have passed over to the enemy.

In his declarations he did not disavow a line of what he wrote, and that is not contrary to Bolshevik discipline; but he also declared that he had never wanted to constitute a faction on a political and personal basis and that he was more than ever disciplined to the party. One could not want anything more of a man who is among the worthiest of being the head of the revolutionary party.

But beyond the sensational question of his personality, problems that he raised remain: they should not be eluded, but faced.

February 8, 1925


(1) Plenum of the Central committee of the Russian CP, at the end of January 1925, accept the resignation of Trotsky of its function of “Commissar of War” defined the “present Trotskyism” as a “falsification of Communism” and accuses Trotsky of continuing of defending an “anti-Bolshevik platform”

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