Correspondance between Bordiga and Trotsky
Bordiga's letter to Trotsky
Moscow, 2 March 1926
Dear comrade Trotsky,
At the current enlarged Executive, during a meeting of the delegation of the Italian section with comrade Stalin, certain questions were posed about your preface to the book The Lessons of October and about your criticisms of the October 1923 events in Germany. Comrade Stalin argued that there was a contradiction in your attitude to this point.
To avoid the risk of quoting comrade Stalin's words with the slightest inaccuracy, I will refer to the formulation of this same observation which is contained in a written text, i.e. the article by comrade Kusinen published in the French edition of International Correspondence, no 82, 17 December 1924. This article was published in Italian during the discussion for our IIIrd Congress (Unita, 31 August 1925). Here it is argued that:
before October 1923 you supported the Brandler group and you accepted the line decided on by the leading organs of the CI for the action in Germany;
in January 1924, in the theses drawn up with comrade Radek, you affirmed that the German party should not have launched the struggle in October;
it was only in September 1924 that you formulated your criticism of the errors of the KPD and the CI, which resulted in a failure to seize the most favourable moment for the struggle in Germany.
With regard to these supposed contradictions, I polemicised with comrade Kusinen in an article which appeared in Unita in October, basing myself on the elements that were known to me. But you alone can throw full light on the question, and I ask you to do this through a brief note of information that I will use for personal instruction. It would only be with the authorisation of the party organs that I would in the future use this to examine the problem in the press.
With communist greetings,
* * *
Trotsky's reply to Bordiga
Moscow, 2 March 1926
Dear comrade Bordiga
The exposition of the facts that you have provided is no doubt based on some obvious misunderstandings, which, once we have the documents to hand, can be dissipated without difficulty.
During the course of autumn 1923, I openly criticised the Central Committee led by comrade Brandler. On several occasions I had to officially express my concern that the CC would be unable to lead the German proletariat to the conquest of power. This affirmation was noted in an official document of the party. Several times, I had the occasion – in speaking with or about Brandler – to say that he had not understood the specific character of the revolutionary situation, to say that he was mixing up the revolution with an armed insurrection, that he was waiting fatalistically for the development of events rather than going to meet them, etc etc…
It is true that I opposed being mandated to work together with Brandler and Ruth Fischer because in such a period of struggle within the Central Committee this could have led to a complete defeat, all the more so because, in the essentials, i.e. with regard to the revolution and its stages, Ruth Fischer's position was full of the same social democratic fatalism. She had not understood that in such a period, a few weeks can be decisive for several years, and even for decades. I considered it necessary to support the existing Central Committee, to exert pressure on it, to insist that the comrades taking part in it act with the firmness demanded by their mandate, etc. No one at that time thought that it was necessary to replace Brandler and I did not make this proposal.
When in June 1924 Brandler came to Moscow and said that he was more optimistic about the development of the situation than during the events of the previous autumn, it became even clearer for me that Brandler had not understood this particular combination of conditions which creates a revolutionary situation. I said to him that he did not know how to distinguish the future of a revolution from its end. "Last autumn, the revolution was staring you in the face; you let the moment pass. Now, the revolution has turned its back on you, but you think that it's coming towards you". While I was fully convinced that in the autumn of 1923 the German party had let the decisive moment pass – as has been verified in reality – after June 1924, I was not in favour of the left carrying out a policy based on the assumption that the insurrection was still on the agenda. I explained this in a series of articles and speeches in which I tried to demonstrate that the revolutionary situation had already passed, that there would inevitably be a reflux in the revolution, that in the immediate future the Communist Party would inevitably lose influence, that the bourgeoisie would use the reflux to strengthen itself economically, that American capital would exploit this strengthening of the bourgeois regime through a wide-scale intervention in Europe around the slogans of ‘normalisation', ‘peace', etc. In such periods, I underlined, the general revolutionary perspective is a strategic and not a tactical one.
I gave my support to comrade Radek's June theses by telephone. I did not take part in drawing up these theses: I was ill. I gave my signature because they contained the affirmation that the German party had let the revolutionary situation pass it by, and that in Germany we were entering a phase not of immediate offensive but of defence and preparation. For me this was the decisive element.
The affirmation that I claimed that the German party would not lead the proletariat to the insurrection is false from start to finish. My main accusation against Brandler's CC was that he was unable to keep up with events by placing the party at the head of the popular masses for the armed insurrection in the period August-October.
I said and wrote that since the party had, through its fatalism, lost the rhythm of the events, it was too late to give the signal for the armed insurrection: the military had used the time lost to the revolution to occupy the important positions, and, above all, it was clear that the mass movement was in retreat. It is here that we see the specific and original character of the revolutionary situation, which can change radically in the space of one or two months. Lenin did not say in vain in September/October 1917 that it was "now or never", i.e. "the same revolutionary situation never repeats itself".
If in January 1924, for reasons of illness, I did not take part in the work of the Comintern, it's quite true that I did oppose what was put forward by Brandler in the Central Committee. It was my opinion that Brandler had paid dearly for the practical experience so necessary for a revolutionary leader. In this sense, I would certainly have defended the opinion that Brandler should stay in the CC had I not been outside Moscow at the time. Furthermore, I had little confidence in Maslow. On the basis of discussions I had with him, I considered that he shared all the faults of Brandler's positions with regard to the problems of the revolution, without having Brandler's good qualities, i.e. his serious and conscientious spirit. Independently of whether or not I was mistaken in this evaluation of Maslow, in indirect relation with the evaluation of the revolutionary situation in autumn 1923…..(translator's note: my version of the French text has a series of question marks here and the sentence ends with the phrase du mouvement advenu en novembre-decembre de la meme annee, but this doesn't seem to make sense. Is the text incomplete?).
One of the main experiences of the German insurrection was the fact that at the decisive moment, upon which, as I have said, the long-term outcome of the revolution depended, and in all the Communist Parties, a social democratic regression was, to a greater or lesser extent, inevitable. In our revolution, thanks to the whole past of the party and to the exemplary role played by Lenin, this regression was kept to a minimum; and this despite the fact that at certain moments the success of the party in the struggle was put into danger. It seemed to me, and seems all the more so now, that these social democratic regressions are unavoidable at decisive moments in the European Communist Parties, which are younger and less tempered. This point of view should enable us to evaluate the work of the party, its experience, its offensive, its retreats in all stages of the preparation for the seizure of power. By basing ourselves on this experience the leading cadres of the party can be selected.