National Sections of the L5I:

International Left Opposition, 1928-33; forging an international leadership

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Battered but unbroken by his fight inside the USSR with Stalin, Trotsky began his foreign exile in 1929 by creating an international opposition (ILO). Dave Stockton reveal the obstacles that had to be overcome by the ILO in building unity around political principle, a trusted international leadership and disciplined practice

The year 1927 was a turning point in the struggle against Stalinism in Russia. The Left Opposition within the Communist Party mounted a defiant attempt to mobilise the working class against bureaucratism and repression.

Their action proved too little, too late: as Stalin's police drove the Opposition off the demonstration to mark 10 years since the Russian revolution, their fate – and that of their leader, Leon Trotsky – was sealed.

The fight against Stalinism in Russia turned from an inner party struggle using condemnations and sackings, to a class-wide struggle involving exile, imprisonment and death. The fight against Stalinism in Russia continued – but with Trotsky's exile and the outbreak of opposition within the world communist movement it began to take on a new international scope.

In this article we will examine how Trotsky and his closest co-thinkers in the years 1928-33 organised the International Left Opposition – the small but influential group that was to keep alive revolutionary Marxism through the 1930s as the Stalinist Comintern degenerated and collapsed.

Despite the beleaguered state of the revolutionary minority in the Comintern, the story of the ILO is one of intransigent struggle by Trotsky and his followers against political confusions within the anti-Stalin camp. From the outset, Trotsky insisted on revolutionary unity: unity based on programmatic agreement – not a sentimental unity on based on the lowest common denominator, an agreement to disagree, or a "liaison committee" for endless discussions.

Trotsky faced enormous difficulties, in terms of the individual leaders, in unifying the disparate groups of oppositionists which had emerged in many countries. The middle class individualism, factionalism, even cliquism – all products of national isolation and isolation from the workers' movement – repeatedly played a very disruptive role. So, too, did the Stalinist police agents planted in the Opposition.

Another, inevitably disruptive, influence was the process of political development itself. On the key questions of the nature of the Soviet bureaucracy, the reformability of the Russian CP, tactics towards the Communist and Socialist Parties worldwide, the international left split again and again. The Left Opposition did not have the benefit of hindsight – nor were any of these questions an accomplished fact when the struggle against Stalinism began. So this article will situate the organisational battles firmly within the political evolution – including the mistakes – of the Left Opposition.1

Stalin's left turn shatters the United Opposition
On 15 November 1927 – one week after the anti-Stalin demonstrations that marked the anniversary of the 1917 – both Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the party.

Their followers had been organised in the "United Opposition", but within a month Zinoviev and his followers had capitulated and were re-admitted to the party "in disgrace". The United Opposition (UO) had in fact been a bloc between revolutionary Marxists and a left section of the bureaucracy opposed to Stalin's compromises with the party's right wing – led by Bukharin – and the rich peasants' interests it had come to promote.

The political reputation of the Zinovievists was in shreds: indeed, as Trotsky insisted, they were "politically dead". Those who refused to capitulate were deported to Siberia or Central Asia in large numbers.

Trotsky himself was deported to Alma Ata in Kazakhstan on 17 January 1928, followed by hundreds of other left-wing victims of the Stalinist police. The purpose of the repression was to break up the collective leadership of the opposition. Trotsky's only co-workers in Siberia were his partner, Natalia Sedova, and Leon Sedov, his twenty-one year old son.

The spring of 1928 marked the beginning of Stalin's break with Bukharin and his turn to the "left". He proclaimed the need for force against a grain strike organised by the rich peasants ("kulaks", for increased collectivisation of the land, and for a more ambitious – in fact, reckless – version of the five year plan. All these measures were ostensibly drawn from the programme of the Left Opposition.

In June, Zinoviev and Kamenev were readmitted to the party. The Sixth Comintern Congress, meeting between 17 July-1 September 1928, saw the launch of a left turn – the so-called "Third Period". Although Bukharin was still head of the Comintern – and though he went uncriticised in the formal sessions – in the corridors another congress was taking place: Stalin and his supporters made it clear to the foreign delegates that big changes were coming.

Stalin's move against the party right, and his apparent conversion to socialist planning measures, took a heavy toll on the ranks of the opposition. Numerous leading opponents of Stalin during his appeasement of proto-capitalist forces now returned to the fold.

The first wave of capitulation was led by Yuri Piatakov in February 1928. The second and far more serious came one year later when Karl Radek, Evgeni Preobrazhensky, Ivar Smilga capitulated, with the excuses that Stalin had taken over much of the Opposition's platform and the dangers that the USSR faced, internally and externally, required their "return to the party".

Of course, the bureaucracy had no intention of relaxing its dictatorship over the party: it intended to strangle what remained of proletarian democracy. The capitulators were obliged to grovel before Stalin, admitting they had been wrong and he right, all along. The third wave of capitulations came in November 1929 led by IN Smirnov and MS Boguslavsky.

That left as leaders of the Opposition inside Russia Christian Rakovsky, N I Muralov, BM Eltsin VD Kasparova, LS Sosnovsky and KI Grünstein.

Opposition spreads throughout the Comintern
The ups and downs of the Russian opposition's struggle with Stalin had a profound and immediate effect on the various small opposition groups that surfaced in the other parties of the Comintern, particularly those in France, Germany, and in the United States.

For nearly six years, the Left Oppositionists had fought mainly within the sections of the Communist International, though some early supporters of Trotsky were expelled in 1924. Figures such as Alfred Rosmer and Boris Souvarine in France, and Max Eastman in the USA, had sided with Trotsky as early as 1923.

In the Polish CP, veteran leaders like Adolf Warski, Henryk Walecki and Vera Kostrova protested against the campaign against Trotsky. Other distinguished revolutionaries of the older generation, founders of their respective communist parties rallied to the Opposition: Andreu Nin (Spain), Henk Sneevliet (Holland), James P Cannon (USA), Chen Duxiu (China), Pietro Tresso (Italy), Josef Frey (Austria).

Some of the isolated opposition intellectuals succumbed to political pressure and became – like Eastman and Souvarine – sceptical mavericks.

But, unwittingly, the Stalinist bureaucracy performed a service to the opposition. Between 1926 and 1928 many members of the Russian opposition were sent on diplomatic and trade mission postings abroad – to get them out of the way. Rakovsky was Soviet ambassador to France from November 1925 to October 1927. Piatakov and Preobrazhensky were in Paris for periods in 1926 and 1927 respectively.

The first conference of the International United Opposition took place in Berlin in 1928. This was chaired by the major Zinovievist leader G I Safarov and had delegates from the German and several other European oppositions. There were 20 Soviet oppositionists present.

In 1928, just as the Russian opposition fell victim to repression, its members scattered over the vast spaces of the Soviet Union and reduced to clandestinity, the isolation, the fragmentation of the opposition in western Europe began to be overcome.

In part this was because the defeats suffered by the working class in China and Britain in 1926-7 began to shatter the prestige of the Stalin-Bukharin leadership. In Russia, the bureaucrats had a state machine at their disposal: in the international movement they had only a lie machine. So, in the west, the CP leaders found it more difficult to convince party members that Trotsky – the acknowledged co-leader of the October insurrection and founder of the Red Army – was a "counter-revolutionary".

Opposition groups come together
In France, as early as 1926, various groups and individual oppositionists existed around prominent former leaders of the Communist Party. Some of these were long term sympathisers of Trotsky such as the veteran syndicalist and communist Alfred Rosmer and the lawyer Maurice Paz. Rosmer, collaborated with another syndicalist, Pierre Monatte, on a paper La Revolution Proletarienne. Paz had received funds from Pyatakov of the Russian Opposition in Paris in 1926 to launch a review, Contre le Courant.

Other oppositionists were leading members of the communist youth organisation, for example Pierre Naville and Gerard Rosenthal. They visited the Soviet Union as part of a young communist delegation and witnessed the attempt of the United Opposition to make a public demonstration during the celebrations of the anniversary of the October Revolution. With the aid of Left Oppositionist Victor Serge they met Trotsky, Zinoviev and Radek.

There were also long term supporters of Zinoviev such as the former party leader Albert Treint and Suzanne Girault around the Contre le Courant magazine.

The problem was that all these groups remained at best indifferent and often hostile to one another. Trotsky noted that:

"There is nothing worse than the stagnation of small groups close to one another. They can sit and rot for years. The conservatism of the small group is particularly powerful in France."2

In North America, the United States and Canadian sections of the Left Opposition owed their origins to the presence at the Sixth Comintern Congress 1928 of James P Cannon and Maurice Spector. Here, all the international delegates were given a copy of Trotsky's critique of Bukharain's draft Comintern programme.3 Cannon, who at that time found himself at an impasse in the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA), was receptive. He had been a supporter of Zinoviev in the mid-1920s, but on his return to the USA, Cannon, together with Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, formed a Left Opposition faction and were in consequence expelled from the CPUSA in November 1928. They immediately began publication of The Militant.

In Germany, in the later 1920s, the strongest oppositionist forces were those linked to Zinoviev, led by Ruth Fischer, Hugo Urbahns and Arkadi Maslow. At the first conference of the Opposition, in October 1927, 500 delegates voted for the Platform of the Russian Opposition. After the expulsions from the party and Zinoviev's capitulation, Urbahns formed the Leninbund as a "public faction" of the KPD in April 1928. It claimed 6,000 members and up to 100,000 supporters still in the KPD. It published a daily paper Der Volkswille.

Zinoviev's capitulation left his supporters abroad orphaned. But these former Zinovievists remained by and large left-centrists. They had been complicit in most of the Comintern's errors between 1924 and 1926, including the early stages of the Anglo-Russian Committee and the entry into the Guomindang. Most of them flatly rejected the theory of Permanent Revolution (see below). Moreover, Fischer and Maslow withdrew from the Leninbund when it became clear that they might be reinstated in the Comintern if they followed Zinoviev's lead and recanted .4

Thus whilst the Leninbund had serious roots in the German working class, it was ideologically amorphous.

The Chinese opposition was the one that sprang most directly out of the struggle of the Russian opposition. In 1926, there were at least 800 Chinese students in Moscow, mainly at the Sun Yat-sen University but also at the University of the Toilers of the East and the Lenin School. The Sun Yat-sen University was headed by Left Oppositionists Karl Radek and Adolf Joffe.

In 1927-28, the Chinese revolution was defeated, after many political concessions towards general Chiang Kai-shek by the Communist Party (CCP) failed to stop him butchering the Shanghai working class. Then the CCP swung left and launched an abortive rising in Canton – also suppressed at the cost of thousands of lives. The Comintern put the blame on the CCP general secretary Chen Duxiu, though in reality strategy had been dictated by the Comintern emissaries Borodin, MN Roy, Lominadze and, hiding behind them, Stalin himself.

In 1927, the Chinese students in Moscow debated why the revolution had failed. At first suspicious of the Opposition, after the demonstrations on the anniversary of the October Revolution, they began to read illicit copies of Opposition documents. By summer 1928, many Chinese students including Wang Fanxi, had read Trotsky's Critique of the Comintern draft programme and the Platform of the Opposition. They translated these documents and prepared to return to China to fight the Stalinist leadership in the CCP. 5

In December 1929, Chen Duxiu broke the long silence since his disgrace and declared for the Opposition. He revealed the role of Stalin and the Comintern in the strategy which led to the disasters in Shanghai and Canton.

But because the Moscow students returned in two waves and to different centres it soon became clear that there were four Oppositional groups;

• Our Word, whose leading figure was Shi Shuyun. This was founded by the first wave of returning Moscow students. But it was very propagandistic and concentrated on translating Left Opposition texts. Wang Fanxi however considered it, in retrospect, "the healthiest of the four factions"

• October Group, whose leading figures were Liu Renjing, Luo Han and Wang Fanxi. They worked in the official party, holding important positions in it for a while, and had 80 members in Shanghai.

• The Militant Group, the smallest

• The Proletarian Faction, led by Chen Duxiu. When he was expelled from the CCP in November 1929, he took 80 or so senior party cadres with him, like Peng Shuzi.

At this point, though divided, the Chinese opposition was probably the largest outside Russia. The task was, as in France and Germany, to unite around a principled anti-Stalinist revolutionary programme. This they finally did in May 1931- despite resistance to the inclusion of Chen Duxiu. In fact, it took Trotsky's own intervention to bring it about. But, three weeks later, the Chinese Opposition suffered the arrest of most of its leaders. However, it survived in illegality, led by younger cadres.6

However, debate now raged within the anti-Stalinist left over the attitude to the USSR as a state, the class nature of the Soviet bureaucracy and the orientation to the Communist Party, within and outside Russia. It was overlaid by another debate over Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, thrown into sharp relief by the events in China.

The programmatic challenge facing the ILO
The opposition to date had been unified around the platforms of the 1923 and the 1926 oppositions and Trotsky's critique of the draft programme of the Comintern.

Trotsky realised that more in-depth works were needed to attack the theoretical foundations of Stalinism – starting with the theory of "socialism in one country". This was created in 1924, lasted throughout Stalin's bloc with Bukharin and survived the left turn of the Comintern in 1928. It proved as adaptable to justifying the forced collectivisation and breakneck tempo of industrialisation as it was the laissez faire attitude to the "kulak"– those peasants who owned farms large enough to employ permanent hired labour.

Trotsky decided to publicly revive the question of "permanent revolution" – a theory which Trotsky considered vindicated by the Russian revolution of 1917, but which he had refrained from returning to in order to maintain the bloc with Zinoviev.

In 1930, Trotsky's Permanent Revolution appeared in German and Russian and an English edition in the following year. It represented a generalisation of the theory as originally expounded in Results and Prospects (1906). It centred on three major questions:

(a) the relationship between the unfulfilled tasks of the bourgeois revolution and the proletarian revolution in the imperialist epoch.

(b) the purpose and limits of socialist economic measures in an isolated and backward country;

(c) the relations between an existing workers' state and the revolutionary struggle in the capitalist world, as expressed in the programme of the Comintern.

The theory of permanent revolution started from a recognition that the capitalist world economy brought together countries at different stages of development, making isolated "national roads to socialism" an impossibility. It underlined the inability of the national bourgeoisie in "backward" countries to uproot feudalism on the land, to destroy national oppression and to install democracy. It showed the incapacity of the peasantry to take the leading role in the fight: for this it would be dependent on either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat.

The workers' task throughout the colonial and semi-colonial countries –but also in developed countries where the main class question was the struggle for democracy – was to put themselves at the head of the "bourgeois democratic" revolution, leading the peasantry and allied with it, but never standing back from a struggle for proletarian power and never reserving a place for the "national" or "democratic" bourgeoisie in the revolution against imperialism. Only by spreading the revolution to the more developed countries could a revolution in a backward country complete the economic tasks of building socialism.

For Trotsky this meant that:

· the era of entirely separate national programmes was over along with national parties. An international party of socialist revolution had to have an international programme.

· the existence of a world economy – and one gripped by acute crisis – meant that, whatever the backwardness or incomplete tasks, it was necessary to combine demands which addressed these with others that opened the transition to socialism: planning, state ownership etc.

· whatever the unevenness of the situation of the working class in each country all had a common goal: the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat based on soviets.

Permanent revolution, both as a theory and a strategy, struck at the heart of the Stalinist programme, which advocated "socialism in one country" – the subordination of the world revolution to the defence of the USSR – and a "two-class" democratic revolution (and even two-class "worker-peasant" parties).

In the 1920s, in the name of the "democratic dictatorship", Stalinism went further than Menshevism had ever done: it ordered the Chinese CP to dissolve into the Guomindang and blocked even the formation of soviets. Trotsky wrote:

"The official subordination of the Communist Party to the bourgeois leadership and the official prohibition of forming soviets (Stalin and Bukharin taught that the Guomindang "took the place of Soviets") was a grosser and more glaring betrayal of Marxism than all the deeds of the Mensheviks in the years 1905-1917."7

The Sixth Comintern Congress not only approved Stalin's policy in China but generalised it. It proclaimed the correctness of the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" for the entire colonial and semi-colonial world.

Trotsky's conclusion was that Stalin's strategy constituted the "unconsciously organised sabotage of the Chinese Revolution". The judgement was harsh but not exaggerated. He neither claimed that Stalin deliberately aborted the Chinese revolution – a charge he did make with regard to the Spanish Revolution after 1936. But neither did he conceal the fact that the Chinese Communist Party (like the British Communist Party in the General Strike of 1926) would have found its way to revolutionary tactics better without the influence of the Comintern.

But what did all this mean for the Comintern? In the late 1920s, Trotsky's strategy was to fight within the Comintern – in the hope that the class struggle in Russia and the political struggle within the Comintern might combine to bring an opportunity to put revolutionaries again at the helm. The perspective of the ILO was to work as an "expelled faction", and with a primary orientation to the CPs.

However, as expulsion served to isolate the Trotskyists from the CP militants, and as "Third Period" adventurism in turn isolated the shrinking CPs from the rest of the working class, the pressure inevitably grew for a turn away from the sole emphasis on the CPs and towards workers in struggle. This in turn posed questions of organisation: for it is one thing to be organised within a mass party as an opposition – another to have to make your way by agitation to the masses themselves, with only the resources of a discussion circle.

While Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution brought into the fight a coherent ideological weapon, that cannot be said, initially, of his characterisation of the process of degeneration in the USSR, which was developed considerably during the 1930s.

The debate on the nature of Stalinism
In November 1929, an all-out drive for collectivisation was launched. It soon became a forced collectivisation. To have any hope of collectivisation working, agricultural machinery had to be provided and thus industrialisation had to be stepped up. Because of the severity of the crisis, this had to be accomplished at breakneck speed – not by harnessing the creativity of the working class but by dragooning it. The first five year plan, drafted in 1928, had its targets arbitrarily doubled in the spring of 1929. It called for a 250% increase in industry by 1933. All of this required a massive, indeed a qualitative, increase in compulsory measures taken against the working class.

Between the summer of 1930 and the summer of 1932, according to historian R. W. Davies, "the strain placed on industry by the overambitious plans led to much disorder".8

The results were an increase in the violent zigzags at the top. As early as the spring of 1930, Stalin had to call a halt to collectivisation. After his Pravda article "Dizzy with success", six million peasants flooded out of the new kolhozy. Stalin blamed all the mistakes on the local party officials who were carrying it out. In fact, it was his policy which was breaking up. In 1931-2, the tempo of industrialisation was dramatically lowered in practice and the planners tried to pick up the pieces.

Trotsky devoted a pamphlet to this crisis when it became manifest – The Soviet Economy in Danger, completed in October 1932. He pointed out the basic problem with bureaucratic planning: that it could not deploy the one basic resource for correcting the mistakes of the plan – the working class itself, through democracy within its basic organisations. The Draft Platform of the International Left Opposition proclaimed: "The living standards for the workers and their role in the state are the highest criteria of socialist successes".

Only an educated working class with time to read, to discuss with other workers, to voluntarily attend political meetings and speak their mind there without fear: only such a working class could take control of its own state and economy. But in Stalin's plan, in reality, improving the living standards of workers came bottom of the list.

In the introduction to Permanent Revolution, Trotsky outlined succinctly the alternative the Left Opposition posed to Stalin's "left turn" in economic policy:

"The optimum tempos, i.e. the best and most advantageous ones, are those which not only promote the most rapid growth of industry and collectivisation at a given moment but which also secure the necessary stability of the social regime, that is first of all, that strengthen the alliance of the workers and the peasants, therefore preparing the possibility for future successes."9

Trotsky compared the two approaches thus:

"The course outlined above towards the economic strengthening of the proletarian dictatorship in one country till further victories of the world proletarian revolution (the viewpoint of the Russian Left Opposition) and (b) the course towards the construction of an isolated national socialist society and this in "the shortest possible time" (the current official position). These are two completely different, and in the last analysis directly opposed, conceptions of socialism. From these are derived basically different lines, strategy and tactics."

The key question now for the entire international opposition, including those attracted to the right or the ultra-left was: what was the political character of this unforeseen and horrendous historical development – what was the Soviet Union under the near-personal dictatorial rule of the General Secretary?

The size of the repressive apparatus grew enormously. In 1928, there were six labour camps with a population of 30,000. By 1931 the number in the camps had soared to 2 million. The reason was straightforward. Before 1928 – despite bureaucratic injustices and excesses – the dictatorship was aimed primarily against the class enemies of the workers and the poor and middle peasants. After this it was reoriented against the great majority of the peasantry and all critical elements within the working class.

Police repression now struck the members of the party. Up to 1927-8, de facto factions had continued to exist in the party despite the formal 1921 ban on them. They were subject to harsh and vexatious administrative measures, such as drafting to posts in far corners of the USSR or abroad. But now any Oppostionist who refused to recant was expelled and handed over to the OGPU (the secret police). Trotsky characterised this as situation where the party had ceased to exist as a party.

Nevertheless, outside the Stalinist apparatus, there were underground groups of workers, tens of thousands of exiles, debating and discussing the Left Opposition's politics in the camps, and many thousands more "old Bolsheviks" who listened furtively to Trotsky's criticisms. In addition, there were even elements within the bureaucracy who would rally to a revolutionary strategy if the alternative was the restoration of capitalism.

For Trotsky this meant that there was a possibility that the Communist Party could be literally re-formed –that is, formed again out of these elements and from those who would recover their critical spirit once the repression disintegrated. Because – in his view – the first political stage of a social counterrevolution had not yet occurred, then it remained possible to remove the bureaucracy from power by a political fight that stopped short of armed struggle and insurrection. The state machinery was not yet in the hands of dedicated capitalist restorationists.

The summation of Trotsky' entire analysis of the USSR was contained in Problems of the Development of the USSR, dated 4 April, 1931. Trotsky rejected the theory that Russia under Stalin represented a variety of State Capitalism – and the theories of Hugo Urbahns and Karl Korsch that it was no longer a workers' state even though it was not yet capitalist. Because the gains of the October 1917 revolution were still intact, for Trotsky the starting point was that Russia was still a workers' state. Its bureaucratic degeneration must be reversed but that could still be done by a process of reform.

But Trotsky made an important shift of perspective in 1931, one which was based on his recognition that the forced collectivisation and industrialisation had greatly reduced the danger of a revolt from the old possessing classes and the kulaks-Nepman axis. Now it was the bureaucratic apparatus that was the prime danger:

"The Bonapartist system of administering the party [is] a precondition for a Bonapartist regime." He wenton to say that, despite the Five Year Plan and collectivisation, indeed because of the way they were carried out , i.e. by brutal , massive force:

"The elements of dual power contained in the bureaucratic apparatus have not disappeared – they have even become stronger as the plebiscitary degeneration of the apparatus has progressed."10

But, despite the suitability of this machine for a social counterrevolution:

" – the passage of power into the hands of the bourgeoisie could in no case be confined simply to a process of degeneration alone but would inevitably have to assume the form of an open, violent overthrow."11

"By Thermidorean overthrow the Opposition has always understood a decisive shift of power from the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, but accomplished formally within the framework of the Soviet system under the banner of one faction of the official party against the other. In contrast to this, Bonapartist overthrow appears as a more open, "riper" form of the bourgeois counterrevolution, carried out against the Soviet system and the Bolshevik party as a whole in the form of the naked sword raised in the name of bourgeois property. The crushing of the right wing of the party and its renunciation of its platform diminish the chances of the first, step by step, veiled, that is Thermidorian, form of the overthrow. The plebiscitary degeneration of the party apparatus undoubtedly increases the chances of the Bonapartist form. However, Thermidor and Bonapartism represent no irreconcilable class types, but are only stages in the development of the same type - the living historical process is inexhaustible in the creations of transitional and combined forms. One thing is sure: were the bourgeoisie to dare to pose the question of power openly, the final answer would be given in the mutual testing of class forces in mortal combat."12

Trotsky thus came to the conclusion that the Stalinist bureaucracy was:

"the source of the most acute and direct danger for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The systematic struggle against ruling centrism is the most essential part of the struggle for the rehabilitation, the strengthening and the development of the world's first of workers' state."

Of course, this analysis contained within it a problem. Whilst Trotsky drew out an analogy from the French revolution – the growth of Bonapartist tendencies – he was still obliged to insist that Thermidor lay ahead and not behind.

He corrected this error in 1934. In that year he admitted that "the analogy of Thermidor served to becloud rather than to clarify the question". Thermidor was political counterrevolution against the most radical wing of the bourgeoisie and the Jacobins and their plebeian supporters the sans cullottes. In fact the striking analogy is that Stalin – making allowance for the fact that we now speak of a proletarian rather than a bourgeois revolution – also represented a political counterrevolution. Trotsky concluded that the period 1924-27 represented Thermidor, while the personal dictatorship of Stalin its Bonapartist phase.

"Thus, the present-day domination of Stalin in no way resembles the Soviet rule during the initial years of the revolution. The substitution of one regime for the other occurred not at a single stroke but through a series of measures, by means of a number of minor civil wars waged by the bureaucracy against the proletarian vanguard. In the last historical analysis, Soviet democracy was blown up by the pressure of social contradictions."13

Both Thermidor and Bonapartism created an instrument for the social counterrevolution but one which required a revolutionary overthrow of the planned property relations to accomplish – one which would fracture the bureaucracy. Likewise – though Trotsky did not at once draw this conclusion clearly – it would take a political revolution to restore the power of the soviets as they existed in the early years of the revolution.

In the years 1929-33, Trotsky moved beyond the analysis that the Russian Opposition had developed. He no longer identified the right and the kulaks as the main danger but, rather, saw the Stalinist regime's Bonapartist character and the destruction of workers' democracy in party, soviets and trade unions as the main threat. For this reason Trotsky now used the words "bureaucratic degeneration" and even "complete bureaucratic degeneration". Not until the period 1934-6 was he to conclude that Stalinism had abandoned its centrist character and that a political revolution was necessary to smash it.

Trotsky in exile: the struggle for an international opposition
These developments and analysis formed the background to the organisational struggles within the proto-ILO groups. When Trotsky was expelled from the USSR in the first days of 1929, he settled in Prinkipo, Turkey, able at last to set about rallying together oppositionists around the world into an international tendency. Formally, the ILO was to be a faction of the Comintern, albeit an expelled one.

It was possible now to clarify the political physiognomy of the Left Opposition, distinguishing it from both the ultra-left oppositionists of the early 1920s, and from the Zinovievists who, even if they resisted capitulation, either defended their leader's former errors or made new ultra-left ones. Trotsky's hope was to win as many worker cadres and party intellectuals as possible out of these confused opposition groups.

In addition, it was necessary to distinguish the Left's positions from those of the Bukharinist "Right Opposition" who were, by 1929, also in the process of being expelled from the Comintern sections.

From Prinkipo, Trotsky tried to keep in touch with the Russian Opposition which, both in Siberian exile and driven underground, was still the largest section of the Left Opposition. In July, Trotsky and his son, Leon Sedov, issued the first number of the Russian language Bulletin of the Left Opposition which was smuggled into Russia, circulated widely and received considerable correspondence in return. This contact with the Russian Opposition, now headed by Rakovsky and Sosnovsky, continued more or less unbroken until 1934.

Then the repression of the GPU became so intense that all regular reciprocal contact was broken. In 1934, Rakovsky – in ill health and living in dreadful conditions – finally capitulated, as did Sosnovsky. Their excuse was the great danger to the USSR posed by Nazi Germany. This was a heavy blow to Trotsky. But as Victor Serge and Ante Ciliga testify, groups of Oppositionists continued to hold out in the "isolators" – the camps scattered over Arctic Russia, Siberia and Central Asia.

The first successful unified section of the ILO was the Communist League of America, founded in Chicago on 17-19 May 1929 by Cannon, Shachtman and Abern. At its foundation, it had around a hundred members. Unlike most of the European sections it had from the outset a good number of worker cadres. A group of Canadians around Maurice Spector worked in close collaboration with the CLA. A fortnightly paper, The Militant, had been launched in March 1929.

The CPUSA was itself not a mass party (it had some 6,000 members) and the Left Oppositionists hoped at first to be able to make a direct approach to non-party workers and youth as a supplement to the orientation to the Communist Party of which they considered themselves "an expelled faction seeking readmittance". Trotsky agreed and advised the Americans to "win over the proletarian youth, to clear a road to the most oppressed and neglected strata – beginning with the Negroes".14

Trotsky, soon proclaimed himself delighted with The Militant's "fighting spirit" and considered the publication a great step forward for the International Opposition.

But, important as the USA was, it was even more vital to begin the process of creating an international leadership and a functioning international organisation.

Trotsky looked to the French opposition to lead this process. It rapidly became clear that the French opposition leader Paz had no will to go beyond producing Contre le Courant. The young Russian Oppositionist, Soltnsev had already noted this in his report on the West European Opposition groups, sent to Trotsky just before his return to the USSR. He describes Paz's activity as having something of a "salon opposition" character. Trotsky later summed up Paz's objectives as hopelessly propagandist.

Trotsky turned from Souvarine and Paz to an old comrade from his days in Paris during the First World War, the former revolutionary syndicalist and founder of the French CP, Alfred Rosmer. Rosmer, after his expulsion from the party, had returned to working with his old comrade Pierre Monatte, who, after five years in the CP, was succumbing once again to syndicalism. Monatte produced a paper – Revolution prolétarienne – which Rosmer also wrote for, but which Trotsky thought was politically confused. Nevertheless, he looked to Rosmer to play a crucial role in rallying and unifying the forces of the opposition.

Rosmer and his wife Marguerite (also an opposition activist) visited Trotsky in June where they planned the unification of the French opposition.

Trotsky held out great hopes that the young oppositionists who visited him in Turkey would be able to build a powerful French section and indeed the core of an international leadership for the ILO.

The first group to arrive – at the end of March – was a party consisting of Raymond and Henri Molinier and Pierre Gourget. A little later Jeanne Martin, arrived and stayed after the departure of the main group to perform secretarial duties for Trotsky. Trotsky was impressed with the 25 year old Raymond Molinier – not least for his organising abilities. Then in August came three other young militants: Pierre and Denise Naville and Gerard Rosenthal.

In August 1929, Trotsky was delighted when the weekly paper La Verité , finally appeared, believing it would speed up the ideological clarification of a French left, riven with political and personal prejudices. Even so, it still took nine months of the appearance of the paper to produce an organisation

Finally, in April 1930, the Ligue Communiste (Opposition de Gauche) was founded with a leadership of seven members: Rosmer, Naville, Pierre Gourget, M. Mill, D. Levine, Rosenthal and Pierre Frank.

Mill – a codename for the Lithuanian Pavel Okun – was the representative of the Russian group in Paris and indeed was to be entrusted with representing the Russian Opposition on the International Secretariat. He was, however, an agent of Stalin's GPU and played a role in fomenting the disputes which were to nearly destroy the French section over the next two years.

The dispute over the international conference
Trotsky received a whole series of Oppositionists over the spring and summer of 1929. During the Rosmers' visit, there was something of a mini-conference which established a "provisional committee of the Communist Left Opposition".

Trotsky hoped at this time to draw the Leninbund and the Austrian oppositio, led by Josef Frey, into co-producing an organ in German for the International Opposition. To investigate if it was possible to achieve a basic political clarification with Urbahns and Frey, he persuaded Rosmer to visit Vienna and Berlin.

Whilst Rosmer reported political solidarity with Frey, and an ostensible willingness to collaborate with the publications, the response of the Leninbund was a great deal more distant.

Trotsky hoped to draw the Leninbund into co-producing the journal if it was possible to achieve a basic political clarification with Urbahns. Already, it was ominous that, despite the stream of French and Czech visitors to Prinkipo, there had not yet been even a proposal for any representatives of the Leninbund to come. Then political life threw two apples of discord into the path of unification: the day of mass street actions proclaimed by the Comintern for 1 August 1929 and the dispute over the Russia-China far eastern railway.

Trotsky called on the Comintern to cancel the day of mass street actions proclaimed for 1 August - he said it was part of an adventurist "conquest of the streets" strategy that would cut the vanguard off from the working class. The Leninbund disagreed. The Leninbund also took a different line to the defence by Trotsky of the USSR in the dispute with Chiang Kai-shek over the far eastern railway – calling the USSR's actions "imperialist". Urbahns was already evolving away from characterising Russia as a workers' state, albeit one ruled by a bureaucracy.

Despite these disagreements, Trotsky was eager to convene an international conference of Oppositionists as soon as possible. In three letters to Rosmer in October-December 1929, he expressed alarm at what he described as the "stagnation of the international bureau". From Paris he received only excuses. This eventually led to an explosion:

"Things have dragged on since the summer in spite of the decisions made and even signed on Prinkipo – I sent a proposal for a circular at least two months ago. It was proposed to remit this task to La Verité. I agreed at once. Everyone awaited the promised initiative and now you propose that I wait a few days for an answer on the international bureau. I do not know the reasons for this inadmissible delay. We are losing time and in politics to lose time is to lose the battle"15

The first international conference of the Opposition finally took place in Paris on 6 April 1930. The German, Belgian, Spanish, French and American oppositions were represented. Observers from the Italian Bordigist exiles were present but did not participate.

To Trotsky's dismay, the conference held only two sessions (morning and afternoon). It issued no statement whatsoever, beyond a short one on the shooting in the USSR of the Left Oppositionist Blumkin. In the morning session an International Secretariat was elected and an international Internal Bulletin set up. In the afternoon session the delegates gave reports on the situation of the oppositional forces in each of their countries.

In this, sharp differences broke out between the delegates, especially between the Belgians: the Brussels group around Adhémar Hennaut and Eduard Van Overstraeten. The latter argued for a "broad regroupment" to include the Bordigists and the Leninbund. On the other hand, the Charleroi group, made up largely of miners, around Leon Lesoil, held with Trotsky that it was necessary "to group together those who are ready to go forward, not those who came here only for a discussion".16

Finally, the conference elected an International Secretariat consisting of Rosmer, Nin, Mill and Sedov.

Trotsky was furious at this "mute conference" because of its failure to issue any sort of political declaration or manifesto, "not even a succinct, clear statement of principle". He savagely observed that there was no need to have a conference for such work as it had performed. To create a secretariat one would need "four or five postcards, nothing more". 17

Trotsky observed: "I sense that there are tendencies on this important question that are not in agreement with the active revolutionary internationalism of the Opposition".18

In fact, the French section was performing important work among the émigré communities in Paris which was to enormously aid the spread of the ILO. In late 1929 it attracted a group of Jewish workers from the Communist Party and then a group of Hungarian émigrés. Rosmer also won to co-operating with the League three distinguished exiled Italian Oppositionists Pietro Tresso, Alfonso Leonetti and Andrea Ravazzoli. They soon constituted the New Italian Opposition – new in contradistinction to the Bordigists. The French section also entered into collaboration with a group of Vietnamese Oppositionists around Ta Tu Thau.

Problems in the trade unions
Among trade unionists too, the Ligue Communiste seemed to have made a good start. Rosmer's record as a militant worker gave them a hearing among layers of militants. However, problems soon arose with the manner in which this work was conducted. Rosmer proved unable to break in practice with an approach he shared with his syndicalist ally and friend Pierre Monatte.

In the Ligue, Rosmer and Naville left the trade union work entirely to Pierre Gourget. He received no guidance, no political counterweight to the syndicalists with whom he was working. Clearly, too, he did not trust the Ligue to do this. For Naville, this attitude was in part due to lack of knowledge of trade union matters and partly because Gourget was in his camp in the personal friction with Raymond Molinier. Gourget thus threw himself into work in the Opposition Unitaire, entirely without political supervision. Without consulting anyone he co-authored a set of theses with a non-member of the Ligue for a conference of the Unitary Opposition on 20 November 1930.

Raymond Molinier got wind of this and correctly demanded that the Ligue's executive take a position on the document. When the leadership saw the draft they all agreed that it would not do. It consisted, in Trotsky's view, of "bits and pieces culled from syndicalism, communism and reformism. One can clearly see where the good Gourget, in diplomatic deference to his partner, threw one communist principle after another overboard, on the one hand, and on the other incorporated one prejudice after another into the document."19

The attempt to exert control over Gourget at the last moment had the predictable consequence that he stormed out of the Ligue denouncing it for political interference in the unions. Trotsky summed up the lessons:

"Beginning in April 1930, the League in effect gave up independent work in the trade unions in order to build the Unitary Opposition, which for its part strives to have its own platform, its leadership, its policy. Within these limits we have a striking analogy with the experience of the Minority Movement in Britain. It must be said, however, that in the French circumstances there are certain features that, from the very beginning, render this experiment more dangerous. In Britain the Minority Movement as a whole was more to the left than the official leadership of the trade unions. Can this be said of the Unitary Opposition? No, in the ranks of the latter there are elements who are obviously tending towards the Right Opposition, that is towards reformism."20

He called into question the entire orientation within the Opposition Unitaire, which he saw as a propaganda grouping for semi-syndicalist, semi-communist ideas. Even its central obsession with "trade union unity".

". . . the Unitary Opposition is not a trade union organisation, it is a political faction having as its task to influence the trade union movement. Let us leave it to Monatte and his friends, the POPists, to act under a mask. Revolutionists act openly before the workers. In the Unitary Opposition we can work only with those who go side by side with us, in the same direction, even though not to the end of our road."21

These disputes were only a foretaste of the political struggle Trotsky had to carry out in order to turn the sections of the ILO into a disciplined and politically unified current. The political struggle in three key sections illustrates the problems that were being thrown up by the counter-revolution in Russia and the rising threat of fascism in the West.

The sharp disagreements in the French section crystallised into a clash of political method and personalities between Pierre Naville and Raymond Molinier. At the same time, Trotsky had developed major political criticisms with Rosmer and Naville – the slowness and compromising over the conference of the ILO and the conciliation to syndicalism involved in the Gourget crisis

Many accounts of the clashes between the Molinier-Frank grouping and the Naville-Rosenthal grouping, supported by Rosmer, mention the primarily personal character of the affair. This is not correct or, rather, it puts the cart before the horse. Of course, there were strong personal animosities involved. But the differences were not first and foremost ones of temperament but arose from genuine differences over:

the priority and resources to be accorded to building the international opposition;

the attitude to trade union work;

the balance between literary propaganda and active building of the organisation in the working class.

On all these issues, Rosmer and Naville took a different position to Trotsky – not openly and clearly – but often by delay and even subterfuge.

This is not to say that Molinier and Frank had no faults. Trotsky was well aware of them. In September 1931 he wrote:

"Molinier's big fault lies in the extreme explosiveness of the man. At a moment's notice he throws himself into doing everything for everybody, without asking the others and without coming back to them. By this means he not only incites the bad workers against himself but the good ones as well, who demand of him more normal and democratic methods of work. I have had some clashes with him on this field and I fear I will have more in the future."22

In his biography of Trotsky, Pierre Broué makes it clear that Naville had already made a bad impression on Trotsky as a political leader, just as Molinier had made a good one.

"[Trotsky] judged Naville as being too much the intellectual, regarded his surrealist past in a bad light, judged that he was divorced from the mentality of workers, criticised him for having a haughty attitude to other militants, said his conceptions of organisation came close to, 'Souvarinism': and he created for all these weaknesses the neologism "Navillism". [Leon Sedov] and [Jan] Frankel, who were both hostile to Naville and in touch with Molinier, carefully encouraged him in this attitude."23

At the April 1930 foundation conference of the League, Rosmer, backed up by Naville, succeed in excluding Raymond Molinier, though not Frank, from the seven-person executive of the French Ligue. Trotsky criticised the "stacking" of the leadership in favour of the Naville grouping, arguing for a more inclusive leadership so that the dissension might be overcome by discussions on it rather than by warfare between the Molinierists and the leadership on each and every issue.

The explosion soon came, over a demonstration organised by the Vietnamese group outside the Elysée Palace after a massacre in Vietnam by French colonial troops. Arrested at the demonstration, Ta Tu Thau, the leading figure of the group, and eighteen others were deported to Indochina. They had only notified Gerard Rosenthal at the last minute and he too was arrested on the demonstration. This was a savage blow and led to an eruption of criticism of the leadership in the Paris organisation, led by Molinier and Frank. The leadership outraged by what it regarded as disloyal criticism, censured Molinier and removed him from the leadership of the Paris organisation.

A heated correspondence between the Rosmers and Trotsky took place, in which Trotsky refused to support their actions and viewpoint. Trotsky urged the main combatants Molinier and Naville to come to visit him. After a long discussion, what became known as "the Peace of Prinkipo" was signed.

But on their return to Paris war broke out almost at once. Rosmer became totally demoralised by the "infernal atmosphere". From the end of 1930, Rosmer withdrew completely from the Ligue and the International Opposition. Given Rosmer's international reputation and his role in attracting an number of cadres from various countries to the ILO, this was clearly a heavy blow to Trotsky.

Typically, Trotsky refused to be swayed by what he called sentimental considerations. He insisted that, at the root of the disputes in the French section, there lay important political differences. These included the League's direction of its members' work, policy toward the trade unions, the need for a proactive international leadership and, last but not least, the more formal, disciplined and inclusive type of leadership necessary for building a organisation which wanted to actively intervene in workers' struggles, recruit large numbers of them to its ranks, rather than rest content with publishing propaganda.

Rosmer was used to the atmosphere of a syndicalist pressure group, of a journal whose task was propaganda: he hated the idea that the political differences generated by world events would drive wedges between himself and former comrades and friends. To assuage these differences he was willing to soften polemics, blur organisational questions and to procrastinate when time was of the essence.

In fact Trotsky came to realise that there was a degree of inevitability that some who could play a positive role in one phase of building an organisation would be unable to make the transition to another phase.

"The League is on its 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. Politically speaking, this is a great step forward which can also be seen in the development of La Verité. But the ineluctable negative aspects of this step forward Rosmer finds unbearable – and this is the personal explanation for the Rosmer case. But it would be highly frivolous to fall into despair or even to become pessimistic because of them. For in the course of the last year we've come a long way and these crises no longer arise from the old unhealthy stagnation of the foreign Opposition groups but rather out of their development, metamorphosis and growth."24

This first "crisis in the French section" showed the enormous problems there were in welding together a leadership team which had a firm grasp of principles and the flair and the will to carry them into the workers' movement. The personal character of the disputes only served to highlight how what is secondary in a mass organisation can sometimes cripple a small one.

Germany was to be vitally important for the Left Opposition. In the years 1929-33 it was the most crisis-wracked major capitalist power, with the largest and most historically Marxist-influenced workers' movement. It was the key to the international situation. If a revolution were to break out, let alone succeed, in Germany, then western Europe would be plunged into a revolutionary situation and the Russian workers would experience an upsurge of hope and confidence in the international revolution. That, in turn, could rouse the Russian party from its demoralisation and enable the reversal of the bureaucratisation process in the state, the party and the Comintern.

The central issue in Germany was how to defeat the influence of Social Democracy on the workers' movement. The German Communist Party showed its manifest incapacity to do this; the SPD showed its absolute craven subordination to the bourgeoisie. So fascism – utilising "revolutionary" and "socialist" demagogy – began its terrifyingly rapid ascent.

The key question from 1930 onwards was how to defeat rising fascism and open the door to the seizure of power by the working class. The Comintern's answer was adventurist leftism, formally launched at the Sixth Congress in 1928 but intensified with suicidal consequences after the rise of fascism in 1930. The SPD offered class collaboration with the imperialist bourgeoisie's "solution" to the 1929 crisis: to punish the working class and ruin the middle class in the name of "saving democracy".

Centrist currents emerged from within the two mass workers' parties and in the political space between them, in response to these criminal errors. But they did not in general go beyond calling for a defensive "unity at any price", a long-term bloc with reformism, that is, one made at the price of capitulating to reformism in deeds while posing the need for revolution in very abstract terms.

The key task was to address the problems of defending workers' jobs and organisations: against mass unemployment, against the fascist gangs. The working class needed a strategy for a united response to these attacks which could, as it succeeded, pass over into a struggle for power.

Such a strategy – and only such as strategy – would unite the employed and unemployed workers and neutralise the mass plebeian base of fascism. Only if the workers showed that they had a solution to Germany's economic agony could fascism be defeated.

By 1929, Urbahns and the Leninbund were moving rapidly away from the positions of the Left Opposition. Urbahns came under the influence of the ultra-left ideas of the Russian Democratic Centralist faction led by Timofei Sapronov. This group had been a part of the United Opposition of 1926 but had developed the view that social counterrevolution had taken place and that the Comintern was incapable of leading a revolution. A further influence on Urbahns was the philosopher Karl Korsch, recently expelled from the KPD. Urbahns increasingly took up positions hostile to the idea of a Leninist vanguard party which he blamed for giving rise to Stalinism. He also insisted that "independent" soviets (that is, outside of party leadership) were sufficient for the emancipation of the working class.

Urbahns' position involved turning its back both on the Russian workers' state and the hard-pressed Russian opposition, but also, critically, on the millions of revolutionary workers still in the Comintern. Ultra-left in form, it had a strong right-opportunist logic; namely, no longer calling for the defence of the Soviet Union from attack. This manifested itself in Urbahns attitude to the Sino-Russian conflict over the Manchurian railway where he supported Chiang Kai -shek's China against the USSR. Urbahns developed (or rather borrowed from the Mensheviks) the theory that Russia represented a form of "state capitalism".

In Germany, the explicit Trotskyists – official supporters of the Russian Left Opposition – were few in number. A veteran KPD leader, Anton Grylewicz, had already opened a struggle against Urbahns within the Leninbund. In addition, there was a KPD oppositional grouping of some size in the famous working class district of Wedding in Berlin. Neither were very clear on the principle issues which the Left Opposition had fought for over the past six years though they were clear enough on the suicidal course of the KPD, and respected Trotsky's views and his record of struggle.

The Leninbund was not in a good state largely as a result of Urbahns' turn away from the central task of addressing the vanguard workers assembled in the KPD. Grylewicz reported to Trotsky at the end of 1929 that whilst it claimed some 2,000 members, most of them were completely passive.

Urbahns gradually became more and more publicly hostile to the Russian Opposition at a time when the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists were being subjected to ever more violent repression – to mass exile to Siberia – and to blows from within.

July 1929 saw the so-called "fourth wave" of capitulation by key old leaders of the LO such as Karl Radek, Evgenii Preobrazhensky and Ivan Smilga as Stalin broke with the Right and embarked on rapid industrialisation and collectivisation. Christian Rakovsky, the most prominent remaining leader of the Opposition, did not capitulate but he did issue a statement in August 1929 emphasising the Opposition's willingness to work with the centre against the Right and pointing out that they were forcibly, not voluntarily, excluded from the party at a time when the future of the workers' state was in jeopardy.

Urbahns condemned both the capitulators for "surrendering to Stalin". He drafted a resolution which said: "The leadership of the Leninbund condemns this declaration as the passing of the Russian Opposition over to centrism and reformism."25 This amalgam between those who remained in deportation and those restored to the party was an outright declaration of war on the ILO and made a split of its supporters in the Leninbund urgently necessary.

In August 1929, Kurt Landau, an Austrian Oppositionist, moved to Berlin with the project of unifying the German Opposition. Landau had been expelled from Josef Frey's Austrian Communist Party-Opposition (KPO-O) in mid-1928 and, with a group in Graz, brought out a journal, Die Neue Mahnruf (The New Warning Call). Once he arrived in Berlin he worked primarily with the "Wedding Opposition". However, his relations with the Leninbund minority led by Grylewicz, rapidly deteriorated, with them accusing Landau of sectarianism and authoritarianism.

Nevertheless, the project of unifying the various groups continued. Trotsky sent Max Shachtman and Pierre Naville as representatives to a fusion conference held in Berlin in April 1930. In fact they had to chair the meetings. So divided were the followers of Landau and Grylewicz that it was only the threat of a refusal to recognise either group if they did not unite that finally "forced" the unification. This did not augur well for the future of the German section, the United Left Opposition (VLO).

The membership of the new organisation was overwhelmingly working class. This was so in Berlin, especially "Red Wedding", the proletarian heart of the capital. It also had a strong base in Saxony. Prominent among the leaders from Saxony, and soon to be Landau's main opponent, was Roman Well and his brother Abram Senin.

Both were GPU agents whose task was to split and demoralise the German section of the ILO. With the (unconscious) aid of Landau's leadership methods – or absence of them – the next year was spent in furious internal disputes. Unlike the French disputes – which had at their core important political differences – the ferocious polemics in the German section appeared not to do so. Thus Landau denounced the Saxon members as "centrist" because they expressed doubt about Trotsky's contention that there existed "elements" of dual power in the USSR. Trotsky replied to these perfectly loyal political differences at length but fiercely defended their right to express them and not be treated to a diatribe involving questioning their right to be in the Opposition. Landau's opponents, particularly Well, replied in a similar manner.

Because the disputes disclosed only a minor political content Trotsky urged conciliation – in vain. Well demanded the expulsion of Landau and then Landau set about organising to do the same to Well and Grylewicz. Clearly, Well's purpose as a GPU agent, was to cause the maximum disruption without being uncovered. But Landau could not have acted more disruptively if he had been a Stalinist agent. Well did it by art, but Landau by nature.

In the middle of this mayhem, Landau's former comrades in Austria accused one of their members of being a police provocateur. They could present no evidence for this when challenged to do so, nor would they withdraw. Trotsky condemned Mahnruf, calling their behaviour a "criminal toying with serious accusations" and observed that the group was showing "a combination of light-headedness and cynicism". He commented that people who throw such unsubstantiated allegations around should be expelled for "poisoning the well of the revolution. A revolutionary organisation selects and educates people not for intrigues among cliques but for great struggles".

On Trotsky's initiative, the International Secretariat declared both Mahnruf and Frey's group "unfit to belong to the ILO".

However, Landau rushed to defend his Austrian disciples, out of personal loyalty and because their unscrupulous polemic methods were, after all, his. This led to a final breach with Trotsky. "Landau is in all respects a disciple of Frey, and at the same time a caricature of him, a malicious caricature". Trotsky pointed to his extreme querulousness, rude and disloyal behaviour to opponents, cliquish defence of his friends no matter what they did. All this meant that, on the national terrain he was working on, he was factional to the point of sectarianism. But internationally he adopted a live-and-let live approach, ignoring major differences of principle.

Landau sought the support of the Naville leadership in the French section – with whose positions on the trade unions he had no common ground. He began to make overtures to the Bordigists and to argue for an all-inclusive Opposition Conference.

But on 31 May, 1931 the VLO finally split. Landau took one-third of the organisation with him, proclaiming that they had no programmatic differences with the ILO but disagreed with its "bad organisational methods", "bureaucratism" the cult of Trotsky. In April 1932, Landau went on to gather all the opponents of Trotsky and the ILO over the past few years into "International working group of Left Opposition groups in the Comintern".

Trotsky drew the lessons of the struggles in both the French and the German sections, plus the failure to win either Frey or Mahnruf to the ILO:

"We must say straight out that in various countries the most heterogeneous elements are united under the name of the Left Opposition, and unfortunately elements that are not always of a high quality. Far, far, too many have masked their ambitions for their groups, their petty bourgeois conservatism, their narrow national mindedness, with generalities expressing solidarity with the Russian Opposition. It is only in the last two years that the testing of this solidarity has begun with respect to questions of programme, strategy, and the living facts of the struggle."26

Otto Schüssler, one of Trotsky's secretaries on Prinkipo, returned to Germany and together with Erwin Ackerknecht (E. Bauer) strengthened the leadership of the section. In addition, Leon Sedov moved to Berlin, and the Bulletin of the Opposition was now produced there, and the International Secretariat moved there from Paris.

The revolutionary crisis in Germany intensified. By 1931. there were over four million unemployed in Germany. The KPD's Third Period policy entered its most adventurist phase, toying with slogans of the "national revolution", that is, trying to match the Nazis in nationalist demagogy. In July, the KPD presented the SPD in Prussia with an ultimatum: make a united front with us or we will back the Nazis' referendum to remove the SPD-led Prussian coalition government. The SPD leaders rejected this proposal and the KPD duly backed a Nazi referendum, rebaptising it the "Red referendum".

But events in the SPD clearly showed how effective a serious offer of the united front could have been against the economic effects of the crisis, against the governments which were implementing austerity measures on the workers and the unemployed, and against the terrible fascist danger. The SPD leadership's policy of refusing to collaborate with the KPD and supporting the bourgeois Reich government led to convulsions in the SPD.

In September the SPD expelled Reichstag deputies Max Seydewitz and Kurt Rosenfeld. In October there was a further wave of expulsions and splits from the SPD these left Social Democrats then fused with SPD youth, pacifists, and some of the Brandlerite Communist Party Opposition (KPO) to form the Socialist Workers Party (SAP).

Six SAP leaders were deputies in the Reichstag. Trotsky was initially hopeful that the SAP could overcome its right-centrism. But it concentrated on elections, standing against the KPD and suffered a major defeat in the July 1932 elections, winning only 72,630 votes and losing all six of its Reichstag seats.

Trotsky wrote a series of major articles and pamphlets in this period. In November 1931, Germany, the Key to the International Situation, in December For a Workers United Front Against Fascism, in January 1932, What Next?; Vital Questions for the German proletariat. By 1932, the economic crisis was still deepening and the number of unemployed stood at five million. On the streets of Germany's cities and towns, the fascist SA was engaging in bloody armed clashes with workers' organisations and murdering Jews.

Against this background, the VLO was able to recover after its split with Landau. In the period from April to June 1931 they sold over fifty thousand copies of Trotsky's pamphlets on Germany, which had a major impact on individual militants in both the mass workers' parties and in the SAP.

The VLO's journal Permanente Revolution, though only monthly in 1931, went fortnightly in January 1932 and weekly in June. In newspaper format, by this time selling about 5,000 per issue. Despite facing violence from the state, the fascists and the KPD, the German Opposition spread Trotsky's warnings and working class solution as widely as they could.

Wherever it could, the VLO took practical initiatives in setting up united front committees and proletarian defence groups – in Erkenscweik, Halberstadt, Kaiserslautern and Lauenberg – though these were sabotaged at a later stage by the national SPD and KPD leaderships.

However, VLO in Bruchsal (Baden) had such local dominance that the KPD was unable to set up a branch there. This enabled them to take the lead in the creation of an action committee involving themselves, the SPD and the trade unions. The VLO became very influential in Oranienburg. A section of the KPD leadership there together with some party members and fighters from the proletarian self-defence organisations were expelled for arguing the line of the Trotskyists and joined the VLO.

They were then able to put into practice the anti-fascist united front. In Oranienburg, they drew in not only the SPD and the unions but also the local KPD, its workers' defence squads. With a solid proletarian base they were able to focus on work in the factories and organise the unemployed.

By the end of 1932, the VLO once more had about 600 members organised in 44 branches across Germany. Nevertheless, it is clear that such small forces were unable to turn the tide of history, only to swim courageously against it.

In Spain, Andreu Nin, a leading figure from the revolutionary period of the Comintern and the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU), sided with the Left Opposition. He was expelled from the Comintern, and physically from the USSR, in 1927.

After Trotsky's arrival in Turkey, he rapidly made contact with Nin and sought his collaboration in building a Spanish section of the Opposition. Yet Nin and his closest collaborators Juan Andrade and Julian Gorkin, repeatedly delayed the formation of an organisation of the Left Opposition in Spain, or the publication of an open paper, despite Trotsky's pleadings.

Their conciliationist attitude to existing centrist forces drew constant advice – and then criticism – from Trotsky who repeatedly emphasised the importance of ideological intransigence and involvement in the international organisation of the LO.

Trotsky wrote to Nin on 21 November, 1930:

"In order that small national groups, without adequate theoretical basis, without tradition, without experience, may not lose themselves on the road in the process of patient clarification, there must be a firm link between them, there must be a continuous reciprocal verification; there must be organised ideological control, there must be double and triple ideological implacability."27

Nin did not heed Trotsky's advice. This was doubly disastrous since in spring 1931 the Spanish monarchy finally collapsed and a revolutionary situation exploded, one which lasted nearly a year. The opportunity to build a large Spanish section of the ILO was never better. Yet Nin and his comrades obviously had no appetite for starting this task guided by the programme of the ILO.

He looked for a ready-made instrument to hand. Trotsky was to observe three years later that his correspondence with Nin "was nothing else than a constant polemic, in spite of its most friendly form". In Trotsky's words he "held back for a long time the formation of the Spanish Opposition. He did everything to isolate it and oppose it to the International Opposition."28

Instead of forming an independent group on the principles of the ILO, he worked in 1930-31 as a de facto adviser to Joaquin Maurin's Catalan Communist Federation – a tendency much closer to the positions of the Right Opposition than to the Left, but with the temptation of having a substantial membership, albeit one entirely restricted to Catalonia. Nin placed this work above the ILO's international orientation to the Comintern. His excuse was that the Spanish CP was small and insignificant.

His inclination was clearly to fuse with Maurin's group rather than to keep to the ILO's position of "faction not party".

Trotsky recognised (as he did for the group in the USA) that where the LO sections might be able to grow as nearly as fast as the small Comintern sections in these countries, crippled as they were with the Third Period idiocy, then its was necessary to have a higher party-like profile, undertaking more mass work than was the norm for the other sections of the ILO. But this did not mean abandoning the call for readmission into the CI.

It did, however, mean not privileging fusions with other centrist groupings – especially those to the right of the Comintern sections. Trotsky insisted on absolute intransigent demarcation from the Bukharinist right, that is, Brandler and Lovestone. Maurin was also a close personal friend of Nin and the latter allowed this to influence him greatly when it came to any public criticism of Maurin's politics.

Trotsky insisted that "We must submit Maurin to pitiless and incessant criticism". This involved the rejection of the idea of the "workers and peasants' bloc" a version of the two class party –"a reactionary idea"; of the constant prattle about "the democratic revolution, the popular revolution". Only Trotsky and the ILO's pressure led to Nin's creation of an ILO section which, of course, led to a rupture with Maurin. It began to make progress and by the end of 1932 had some 1,500 members making – alongside the Russian Opposition and the Archeiomarxists of Greece – one of the largest sections of the ILO.

Unfortunately, it was far from being one of the strongest politically; rather, it was one of the weakest. This was symbolised by a struggle over its very name. The Spanish section insisted on calling themselves "Left Communists", a name Trotsky considered imprecise and evasive compared to the internationally recognised Left Opposition or Bolshevik-Leninists, both of which would have clearly identified the Spanish section with the Russian and International LO, against all other expelled Comintern factions and tendencies (Right, ultra-left, Zinovievist etc.).

Nin's fundamental weakness was a tendency to make unprincipled political concessions and organisational conciliation to centrist groupings. His aim was always to secure short term tactical advantages or to make rapid numerical gains.

At the same time, Nin tended to ignore the need for principled communist work within the mass workers' organisations, to reject a central orientation towards the CPs before 1933, and to reject entryism in the leftward moving Socialist parties after that date.

Moreover, Nin's role in the internal life of the ILO was a bad one. He refused to become a real part of the international leadership which Trotsky repeatedly tried to encourage and persuade him to do. He maintained distant and evasive relations with the International leadership and with Trotsky. Rather he sided with every "critical" or "oppositional" tendency or individual, no matter what their grievances (Rosmer, Landau etc.).

In essence, Nin sought a short cut to a powerful Spanish section and resisted any "interference" by the international leadership in these adventurist projects. Thus his ultimate desertion to Maurin with the foundation of the openly centrist POUM in September 1935 was prepared by this long history of opportunistic waverings.

The foundation of the ILO
Trotsky summed up the stage that the sections of the ILO were at:

"Our strength at the given stage lies in our appreciation, in a Marxian conception, in a correct revolutionary prognosis. These qualities we must present first of all to the proletarian vanguard. We act in the first place as propagandists. We are too weak to attempt to give answers to all questions, to intervene in all the specific conflicts, to formulate everywhere and in all places the slogans and replies of the Left Opposition.

"The chase after such a universality with our weakness and the inexperience of many comrades, will often lead to too hasty conclusions, to imprudent slogans, to wrong solutions. By false steps in particulars we will be the ones to compromise ourselves by preventing the workers from appreciating the fundamental qualities of the Left Opposition. I do not want in any way to say by this that we must stand aside from the real struggle of the working class. Nothing of the sort.

"The advanced workers can test the revolutionary advantages of the Left Opposition only by living experiences, but one must learn to select the most vital, the most burning and the most principled questions and on these questions engage in combat without dispersing oneself in trifles and details. It is in this, it appears to me, that the fundamental role of the Left Opposition now lies."29

The long-awaited international conference of the opposition was delayed time and again due to the factional struggles in the French and German groups and the resistance of the Spanish section. Then, in 1932-33, a faction fight in the CLA pitted Cannon against Shachtman and Abern. Meanwhile, the crisis in Germany demanded much of Trotsky's attention.

Yet Trotsky's invitation in 1932 to speak to a meeting in Copenhagen provided an opportunity to arrange an informal conference with 17 delegates from various European sections in attendance. This led to an agreement to call the ILO international conference for early 1933. At the end of December, Trotsky published a set of theses for this conference. As always they emphasised the foundation of programme.

But they also laid out with great clarity what democratic centralism meant in an international organisation. This contrasted sharply with both the highhandedness of the bureaucrat and the intellectuals' hatred of discipline.

"The task of the coming conference of the Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists) is to adopt a clear and precisely formulated platform and organisational statutes, and select its leading bodies. The preceding theoretical, political and organisational work of the Left Opposition in various countries, especially in the last four years, has created sufficient premises for the solution of this task.

The fundamental programmatic and political documents of the Left Opposition are issued in no less than fifteen languages. The Left Opposition publishes thirty-two periodicals in sixteen countries. It has reorganised and strengthened its sections in nine countries and has created new sections in seven countries in the past three years. But its most important and most valuable achievement is the undeniable raising of the theoretical level of the International Left Opposition, the growth of its ideological solidity, and the expansion of its revolutionary initiative . . .

"The sections of the Left Opposition, originating out of small propaganda groups, gradually are being transformed into workers' organisations. This transition puts the tasks of party democracy in first place.

"Regular organisational relations must finally replace the kind of regime in which a few comrades, who are closely connected and understand each other even by the most informal indications, make all their decisions in a casual manner.

"The foundation of party democracy is timely and complete information, available to all members of the organisation and covering all the important questions of their life and struggle. Discipline can be built up only on a conscious assimilation of the policies of the organisation by all its members and on confidence in its leadership. Such confidence can be won only gradually, in the course of common struggle and reciprocal influence.

"The iron discipline which is needed cannot be achieved by naked command. The revolutionary organisation cannot do without the punishment of undisciplined and disruptive elements; but such disciplinary measures can be applied only as a last resort and, moreover, on the condition of solid support from the public opinion of the majority of the organisation."30

It was during the years 1928-33 that "Trotskyism" was born as an international movement. In its genesis it was the continuation of the entire tradition of Bolshevism whose programmatic and organisational achievements it defended against Stalinism as well as fighting the latter's replacement of democratic with bureaucratic centralism. The Russian Left Opposition – almost from the moment of Lenin's final departure from the leadership – defended the twenty year heritage of the party of the October Revolution. Most of the key figures of the Left Opposition had played a major role in this history. But during the 1920s a new generation joined its ranks despite the enormous adversity and sacrifice this meant. The well-chosen name Bolshevik-Leninists, embodied the struggle against the bureaucratic destroyers and falsifiers of these two terms.

This meant not only a fight against bureaucratic hyper-centralism, which crushed all democratic debate and the holding of leaderships to account for their mistakes. It also required the defence of the project of a centralised international party against those who thought that the Comintern's fundamental error was its centralism and that the answer lay in a de facto national autonomy. The ILO defended the concept and practice of building disciplined Leninist combat parties against those who confused Bolshevism with Stalinism.

They also made a new series of programmatic and tactical conquests; permanent revolution as an international perspective, the analysis of the fascist movement and united front necessary to combat it, the class character of a bureaucratic degenerated workers' state, the economic programme and the political measures needed to restore the working class to the capacity to direct its own state.

The task of spreading the influence of the Opposition around the globe was a success. Between the conference which founded the ILO and gave it central bodies in 1930 and the next international conference in early 1933, the number of sections expanded.

Trotsky's role was central. As the last of the great generation of classic Marxists of the Second and Third International, his predominance was inevitable. Trotsky's lonely eminence was caused in part by the isolation and repression visited upon his co-thinkers such as Christian Rakovsky. The younger generation of Oppositionists – like his son Leon Sedov – were still learning. Thus Trotsky was the theoretical powerhouse as well as the principal tactician of the ILO.

Step by step, his powerful analytical work added a whole new dimension to Marxism. Gradually integrated into a developing body of practical politics they emerged– in 1938 – as the new programme of a new international.

But this process of building the ILO as an international organisation was one which faced by truly terrible problems. It was a period in which Trotsky and all the cadres of the Left Opposition were swimming against ferociously strong countercurrents. Stalin and Hitler, though not unstoppable if the working class vanguard had rallied to the right tactics in time, were not stopped. In China and Latin America, military dictatorships drove many of the small Opposition groups into illegality. A larger number of oppositionist communist militants were swept away from the ILO and drowned in these deadly currents.

The early 1930s were also a period for weeding out – by sharp political struggle rather than bureaucratic measures – the accidental collection of maverick and eccentric elements which had gravitated towards the opposition in the 1920s. Many of them were inveterate petty bourgeois haters of all discipline and of centralisation, even that founded on workers' democracy.

The non-proletarian class composition of many of first nuclei of Oppositionists was the basis for many of the internal struggles and crises of these years; many students, young intellectuals brought into the opposition habits, of clique conflicts, of passive propagandism, and aloofness from the working class and its struggles.

In short, they mistook revolutionary intransigence for sectarian narrowness and a propaganda circle mentality. To overcome this, Trotsky fought hard to get the sections to involve themselves as much as possible in the mass struggles of these turbulent year.

The disproportion between the magnitude of the opposition's tasks and the tiny forces it had to carry them out, the pressure of the great mass workers' organisations on tiny circles in a period of mounting mass struggles with historic dimensions all meant that the progress the ILO actually made in this period was remarkable.

Those militants who joined and stayed in the sections necessarily had more than average firmness of character, willingness to sacrifice and commitment to fighting for extremely unpopular ideas.

An additional cause of disruption in the ranks of the Trotskyists was the activity of the Stalinist agents who disrupted the international leadership. They always had at least one agent on it. This all magnified the failure to construct a stable central organisational and political leadership, despite the work of Leon Sedov. But Trotsky never stopped trying to build a collective leadership, to organise regular international gatherings of the Opposition, to ensure the publishing not only of the journals of the major sections (to which he gave considerable sums from his book and journalism royalties) but to maintain an international internal bulletin to stimulate the common life of the ILO.

As well its historically vital role in saving the legacy of Bolshevism from the stranglehold of Stalin, the ILO is a model today for all those seeking to recover and renew the legacy of Trotsky and the Fourth International. Like the ILO, we start – not by choice – from the basis of small propaganda societies, from the need to re-elaborate our programme.

At the close of the twentieth century, this means analysing the collapse of Stalinism and learning the lessons from it. If we do not have the living Trotsky to guide us this must never be a pretext for abandoning the central goal of his work. Today, the political obstacles are less daunting – and the organisational and technical resources available to us far greater – than those faced by the courageous founders of Trotskyism.

Like the ILO, we cannot avoid the internal and external battles in the "small world" of propaganda groups and individuals. So it was and so it will be. During these, however, we must never lose sight of the working class vanguard for whose mass struggles alone our tactics and our programme are designed.

The four year history of the ILO is thus rich in lessons – both positive and negative. But the central one is the absolute priority of the task of rebuilding a democratically centralised single international organisation, armed with a programme which has been renewed to meet the tasks of the period of revolutionary struggles ahead.

1 The definitive work on this period is Opposants Staline by Damien Durand. Published first in Cahiers Leon Trotsky Nos 32 and 33 (December 1987 and March 1988) and later as a book. This excellent work deals mainly with the years 1929-30. It has not been translated into English though it certainly should be. Other invaluable sources are many other issues of the Cahiers Leon Trotsky and Revolutionary History