Workers Hammer No. 201

Winter 2007-2008


Revolutionaries in a reactionary climate

(Quote of the quarter)

The following article was written by Trotsky in 1933 calling for a break from the Third (Communist) International led by Stalin and the formation of a new international. The fact that Hitler came to power in Germany without a shot being fired and without opposition from any section of the international showed decisively that the Third International was dead as a force for revolution. Although written in very different circumstances than we face today, the tasks outlined for a small revolutionary organisation are apt for our tasks in the present political climate dominated by the impact of counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

The fact that two parties, the Social Democratic and the Communist, which arose half a century apart and which both proceeded from the theory of Marxism and the class interests of the proletariat, could have come to such a sad end — the one through base treachery, the other through bankruptcy — can engender pessimistic moods even among the advanced workers. “Where is the guarantee that a new revolutionary selection will not suffer the same fate?” Those who demand guarantees in advance should in general renounce revolutionary politics. The causes for the downfall of the Social Democracy and of official communism must be sought not in Marxist theory and not in the bad qualities of those people who applied it, but in the concrete conditions of the historical process. It is not a question of counterposing abstract principles, but rather of the struggle of living social forces, with its inevitable ups and downs, with the degeneration of organizations, with the passing of entire generations into discard, and with the necessity which therefore arises of mobilizing fresh forces on a new historical stage. No one has bothered to pave the road of revolutionary upsurge for the proletariat in advance. With inevitable halts and partial retreats it is necessary to move forward on a road crisscrossed by countless obstacles and covered with the debris of the past. Those who are frightened by this had better step aside.

But how explain the fact that our grouping, whose analysis and prognosis have been verified by the entire course of events, is growing so slowly? The cause must be looked for in the general course of the class struggle. The victory of fascism seizes tens of millions. Political prognoses are accessible only to thousands or tens of thousands who, moreover, feel the pressure of millions. A revolutionary tendency cannot score stormy victories at a time when the proletariat as a whole is suffering the greatest defeats. But this is no justification for letting one’s hands hang. Precisely in the periods of revolutionary ebb tide are cadres formed and tempered which will later be called upon to lead the masses in the new assault.

—Leon Trotsky, “It is Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew”, 15 July 1933, printed in Leon Trotsky Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-33)