Trotsky on the Anglo-Russian Committee

Submitted by Anon on 30 June, 2006 - 4:47

The disastrous experience with the Anglo-Russian Committee was based entirely upon effacing the independence of the British Communist Party. In order that the Soviet trade unions might maintain the bloc with the strike-breakers of the General Council (allegedly in the state interests of the USSR!) the British Communist Party had to be deprived of all independence. This was obtained by the actual dissolution of the party into the so-called “Minority Movement”, that is, a “left” opposition inside the trade unions.

The experience of the Anglo-Russian Committee was unfortunately the least understood and grasped even in the Left Opposition groups.[1] The demands for a break with the strike-breakers appeared even to some within our ranks as... sectarianism. Especially with Monatte,[2] the original sin which led him into the arms of Dumoulin[3] was most clearly manifested in the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee. Yet, this question has a gigantic importance: without a clear understanding of what happened in Britain in 1925-1926, neither Communism as a whole nor the Left Opposition in particular will be able to find its way on the road.

Stalin, Bukharin, Zinoviev — in this question they were all in solidarity, at least in the first period — sought to replace the weak British Communist Party by a “broader current” which had at its head, to be sure, not members of the party, but “friends”, almost Communists, at any rate, fine fellows and good acquaintances. The fine fellows, the solid “leaders”, did not, of course, want to submit themselves to the leadership of a small, weak Communist Party. That was their full right; the party cannot force anybody to submit himself to it. The agreements between the Communists and the “lefts” (Purcell, Hicks and Cook) on the basis of the partial tasks of the trade union movement were, of course, quite possible and in certain cases unavoidable. But on one condition: the Communist Party had to preserve its complete independence, even within the trade unions, act in its own name in all the questions of principle, criticize its “left” allies whenever necessary, and in this way, win the confidence of the masses step by step.

This only possible road, however, appeared too long and uncertain to the bureaucrats of the Communist International. They considered that by means of personal influence upon Purcell, Hicks, Cook and the others (conversations behind the scenes, correspondence, banquets, friendly back-slapping, gentle exhortations), they would gradually and imperceptibly draw the “left” opposition (“the broad current”) into the stream of the Communist International. To guarantee such a success with greater security, the dear friends (Purcell, Hicks and Cook) were not to be vexed, or exasperated, or displeased by petty chicanery, by inopportune criticism, by sectarian intransigence, and so forth.... But since one of the tasks of the Communist Party consists precisely of upsetting the peace of and alarming all centrists and semi-centrists, a radical measure had to be resorted to by actually subordinating the Communist Party to the “Minority Movement”. On the trade union field there appeared only the leaders of this movement. The British Communist Party had practically ceased to exist for the masses.

What did the Russian Left Opposition demand in this question? In the first place, to re-establish the complete independence of the British Communist Party towards the trade unions. We affirmed that it is only under the influence of the independent slogans of the party and of its open criticism that the Minority Movement could take form, appreciate its tasks more precisely, change its leaders, fortify itself in the trade unions while consolidating the position of communism.

What did Stalin, Bukharin, Lozovsky and company reply to our criticism? “You want to push the British Communist Party on to the road of sectarianism. You want to drive Purcell, Hicks and Cook into the enemy’s camp. You want to break with the Minority Movement.”

What did the Left Opposition rejoin? “If Purcell and Hicks break with us, not because we demand of them that they transform themselves immediately into Communists — nobody demands that! — but because we ourselves want to remain Communists, this means that Purcell and company are not friends but masked enemies. The quicker they show their nature, the better for the masses. We do not at all want to break with the Minority Movement. On the contrary, we must give the greatest attention to this movement. The smallest step forward with the masses or with a part of the masses is worth more than a dozen abstract programmes of circles of intellectuals, but the attention devoted to the masses has nothing in common with capitulation before their temporary leaders and semi-leaders. The masses need a correct orientation and correct slogans. This excludes all theoretical conciliation and the patronage of confusionists who exploit the backwardness of the masses.”

What were the results of the Stalinists’ British experiment? The Minority Movement, embracing almost a million workers, seemed very promising, but it bore the germs of destruction within itself. The masses knew as the leaders of the movement only Purcell, Hicks and Cook, whom, moreover, Moscow vouched for. These “left” friends, in a serious test, shamefully betrayed the proletariat. The revolutionary workers were thrown into confusion, sank into apathy and naturally extended their disappointment to the Communist Party itself which had only been the passive part of this whole mechanism of betrayal and perfidy. The Minority Movement was reduced to zero; the Communist Party returned to the existence of a negligible sect. In this way, thanks to a radically false conception of the party, the greatest movement of the English proletariat, which led to the General Strike, not only did not shake the apparatus of the reactionary bureaucracy, but, on the contrary, reinforced it and compromised Communism in Great Britain for a long time.

• From Chapter 42 of My Life (1930)

Notes

1. The Left Opposition originated in Moscow in 1923 around the questions of workers' democracy in the Russian Communist Party and of the decisive role of state-planned industrialisation in the social life of the Soviet republic. After a long, muted struggle in the Political Bureau during which Trotsky vigorously advocated the establishment of workers' democracy and struggle against bureaucratism, he summarised his standpoint, as against that of the ruling triumvirate (Stalin, Zinoviev, Bukharin) in a letter to the Central Committee and Central Control Commission on 8th October, 1923. Following a vigorous denunciation of his views by the Politburo, which marked the opening of the public fight against 'Trotskyism', a collective letter of solidarity with Trotsky and his views was signed by 46 prominent old Bolsheviks and received by the Central Committee on 15th October, 1923. This group was joined in 1926 by the so-called Leningrad Opposition, led by Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sokolnikov, Krupskaya and others, which had arisen in 1925 as a result of the alarm of the Leningrad workers over the Stalin-Bukharin orientation towards the kulak and their theory of 'socialism in one country'. The fused Opposition Bloc of Bolshevik-Leninists, which summarised its views in the famous Platform of the Joint Opposition (see note 96 above) presented to the Fifteenth Party Congress in 1927, was outlawed by that Congress. Most of the Leningrad leaders, headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev, capitulated to Stalin and were eventually readmitted into the party; thousands of recalcitrants were expelled, imprisoned and exiled. Stalin's exiling of Trotsky was essential to the drive to crush the Opposition.

2. Pierre Monatte (1881-1960), French trade unionist. Founded La Vie Ouvriere in 1909 and joined Trotsky in opposition to the war after 1914. Joined the French Communist Party in 1923 but left the following year as a result of the 'Bolshevization campaign'. Set up an organisation known as the Syndicalist League and a magazine called La Revolution Proletarienne.

3. Georges Dumoulin (1877-1963), French miner and trade unionist. A left-winger before 1914 and at the start of World War 1, but he supported the right-wing syndicalist leadership of Leon Jouhaux by the end and became an official of various right wing trade union organisations between the wars. Collaborated with the Vichy regime during the Second World War.

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