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Spartacist English edition No. 63

Winter 2012-2013

Letter by Fyodor Dingelstedt

The following letter to Trotsky, translated from the Russian by Spartacist, is published with permission of Houghton Library, Harvard University (MS Russ 13 [T2755]).

11 October 1928

Dear comrade Lev Davidovich,

Just days ago we received chapter III, and then (via other channels), chapter I of the “Critique.” This was a joyful event. Chapter III is a treasure for the cause of defense against petty-bourgeois positions on the experience of the Chinese Revolution—this we liked in particular. We are studying it in connection with criticisms of Radek’s mistakes. And additionally, in my opinion this chapter also predetermines the answer to the question of a constituent assembly in China. In fact, in it we read that:

1) The February Revolution had taken place in China in 1911.

2) Any other “democratic” dictatorship, other than the one that was a dictatorship of the Guomindang in 1925, was not, and will not be.

3) An advance toward a genuine solution of bourgeois-democratic tasks of the revolution demands the concentration of all power in the hands of the proletariat.

4) The formula of the democratic dictatorship for it (for the Chinese Revolution) is hopelessly obsolete.

5) The first stage of the impending dictatorship of the Chinese proletariat and village poor must be filled out with the social content of a bourgeois-democratic revolution.

These brilliant, concise theses must lie at the foundation of the corresponding section of the program of the Comintern. I think that you too wrote all this for the same purpose. Such theses cannot be kept in reserve for when a revolutionary situation arrives, to then be retrieved for the political arena.

So if that is the case, if we truly cannot, and we must not, hide our views of the perspectives of the Chinese Revolution, what is the point of the slogan of the constituent assembly?

Can we divide the attention of the proletariat simultaneously between the struggle for a democratic all-class constituent assembly and for the proletarian dictatorship, which in China looms in the nearest future?

Can we accept the idea that the slogan of a constituent assembly will have the slightest actual significance in the sense of neutralizing even only a part of the bourgeoisie, if the bourgeoisie has not only passed through its February stage, but has already carried out its October?1

Can we count on the idea that the proletariat and the village poor will support this slogan if the whole of the previous period of revolutionary struggle has logically led to the slogan of soviets, and if the whole sense of this struggle has led to the fact that the constituent assembly has already been dispersed in advance?

Today I received your postcard of September 27. In it, you posit that in China today there is no revolution, that it has now further receded there than in India,2 and that “constitutional” questions inevitably come to the fore. I am afraid that posing the question in such a way can lead you into the jungles of constitutional illusions. There is no question that our Chinese comrades, for a transitional period of time, will have to find slogans other than those that mobilize the masses for the final goal. They must also find slogans that reflect the minor everyday demands of the masses; they must even enter into parliament, if that proves possible, not overlooking any legal frameworks.

But all this has no bearing on the slogan for a constituent assembly. Because this is not a constitutional, but a revolutionary slogan (only one that is taken from the epoch of bourgeois revolutions). It would be an illusion to think that the slogan of destroying an existing parliamentarian, or other kind of order, through a constituent assembly, could be carried out in a peaceful “constitutional” way. The establishment of a new order is only possible after a revolution, and as a result of the revolution. Of course, one can point to the significance of how it served us to timely convene the Constituent Assembly in 1917—but then, that took place precisely in a revolutionary setting.

That is why the slogan of a constituent assembly in an epoch of reaction has, not greater actual political significance than the slogan for soviets, but rather, in the concrete conditions of China, it comes down to nil and must even have a negative value.

Such are my views that I wanted to state in addition to what I have said earlier.

As concerns the first chapter of the “Critique,” it can now be said that Bukharin and Stalin, with all their “pupils” are now up against the wall, once and for all: not a single tightrope quotation juggler can now say anything intelligent in defense of the theory of socialism in one country. This chapter contains a definitive clarity on that question that Zinoviev in his time helped more to confuse than to clarify, being unable to understand what Lenin had said on this.

“What Next?” we for the time being do not have in full: we receive it in parts, between long intervals. We impatiently await your full assessment of the work of the Congress.

Greetings to L.L. [Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedov],
I firmly shake your hand,
F. Dingelstedt

1. I will not repeat the related question that I sent you in one of my previous letters: is it possible by means of a constituent assembly to deceive the bourgeoisie?

2. I also in no way can agree with this either. Then could one have said that in Russia, after 1907, the revolution had been thrown back further than in, let’s say, China of that day?


English Spartacist No. 63

ESp 63

Winter 2012-2013


Fake-Trotskyist Poseurs Promote Anti-Bolshevik Tract

Bourgeois Liberalism vs. the October Revolution

A Review of The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd, by Alexander Rabinowitch


Marxism and Bourgeois Parliamentarism

Why We Reject the “Constituent Assembly” Demand


Letter by Fyodor Dingelstedt


Recycling the Second International

The Neo-Kautskyites


Larissa Reissner on Trotsky’s Red Army

The Battle of Svyazhsk, a Revolutionary Legend

(Women and Revolution pages)


Fred Zierenberg, 1949–2012