Historical references can never settle a question; but we can learn from history, for example from how Trotsky responded in previous circumstances when it was argued that social democratic parties had become so dead that the sheer weight of political disengagement and unresponsive leadership ruled out revival.
The first excerpt is a polemic written in 1922 against French communists who rejected united-front tactics towards the French Socialist Party in the early 1920s. The French Communist Party then had 130,000 members as against only 30,000 for the Socialist Party. (Those are the figures given by Trotsky in his article: other sources give the SP 40-odd thousand. Bear in mind AWL has about 0.1% the membership of the Labour Party even in its present shrivelled state!)
Trotsky's prediction that "passive and partially disillusioned, partially disoriented workers" might flow to the SP at the next turn was confirmed. The CP was down to 50,000 members in 1928, even before Stalinist "Third Period" policies reduced it further; the SP was up to 119,000 by 1929, and was electorally way ahead of the CP.
"The Dissidents [the French Socialist Party] may under certain conditions prove to be a much more important counter-revolutionary factor within the working class than might appear, if one were to judge solely from the weakness of their organization and the insignificant circulation and ideological content of their paper, Le Populaire...
The initial flood-tide of vague, uncritical, revolutionary moods has been unavoidably superseded by an ebb. Only the most resolute, audacious and youthful section of the world working class has remained under the banner of Communism.
This does not mean naturally that those broad circles of the proletariat who have been disillusioned in their hopes for immediate revolution, for swift radical transformations, etc., have wholly returned to the old pre-war positions. No, their dissatisfaction is deeper than ever before, their hatred of the exploiters is fiercer. But at the same time they are politically disoriented, they do not see the paths of struggle, and therefore remain passively expectant - giving rise to the possibility of sharp swings to this or that side, depending on how the situation unfolds.
This big reservoir of the passive and the disoriented can, under a certain combination of circumstances, be widely utilised by the Dissidents against us.
In order to support the Communist Party, faith in the revolutionary cause, will to action and loyalty are needed. In order to support the Dissidents, disorientation and passivity are necessary and sufficient. It is perfectly natural for the revolutionary and dynamic section of the working class to effuse from its ranks a much larger proportion of members for the Communist Party than the passive and disoriented section is able to supply to the party of the Dissidents.
The same thing applies to the press. The elements of indifferentism read little. The insignificant circulation and content of Le Populaire mirrors the mood of a certain section of the working class. The fact that complete ascendancy of the professional intellectuals over the workers prevails in the party of the Dissidents runs nowise counter to our diagnosis and prognosis. Because the passive and partially disillusioned, partially disoriented worker-masses are an ideal culture medium, especially in France, for political cliques composed of attorneys and journalists, reformist witch-doctors and parliamentary charlatans.
If we regard the party organisation as an operating army, and the unorganised mass of workers as the reserves, and if we grant that our operating army is three to four times stronger than the active army of Dissidents, then, under a certain combination of circumstances, the reserves may prove to be divided between ourselves and the social-reformists in a proportion much less favourable to us". ("On the United Front", 2 March 1922).
The second excerpt is from 1930:
"The assertion made by the official leadership [of the Communist Party] that the Social Democracy allegedly no longer exists politically in Italy is nothing but a consoling theory of bureaucratic optimists who wish to see ready-made solutions where there are still great tasks ahead. Fascism has not liquidated the Social Democracy but has, on the contrary, preserved it.
In the eyes of the masses, the Social Democrats do not bear the responsibility for the regime, whose victims they are in part. This wins them new sympathy and strengthens the old. And a moment will come when the Social Democracy will coin political currency from the blood of Matteotti [an SP parliamentary deputy murdered by the fascists] just as ancient Rome did from the blood of Christ. It is therefore not excluded that in the initial period of the revolutionary crisis, the leadership may be concentrated chiefly in the hands of the Social Democracy. If large numbers of the masses are immediately drawn into the movement and if the Communist Party conducts a correct policy, it may well be that in a short period of time the Social Democracy will be reduced to zero. But that would be a task to accomplish, not yet an accomplishment. It is impossible to leap over this problem; it must be solved.
Let me recall at this point that Zinoviev, and later the Manuilskys and Kuusinens [Stalinist officials], announced on two or three occasions that the German Social Democracy also essentially no longer existed. In 1925 the Comintern, in its declaration to the French party written by the light hand of Lozovsky, likewise decreed that the French Socialist Party had definitely left the scene. The Left Opposition always spoke up energetically against this flighty judgement. Only outright fools or traitors would want to instill the idea in the proletarian vanguard of Italy that the Italian Social Democracy can no longer play the role that the German Social Democracy did in the revolution of 1918". ("Problems of the Italian Revolution, 14 May 1930).