Excerpts from The First 5 Years Of The Communist International (1924, 2 Volumes) by Leon Trotsky

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Excerpts from The First 5 Years Of The Communist International (1924, 2 Volumes) by Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky, a co-leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution in 1917, compiled a collection of documents he authored during the first years of the Communist International organization. It is chock full of insights on organizing a revolution — or failing to — in the wave of insurrections across Europe during the early 1920s. Today, in a time of the momentous Arab Spring and revolutionary upsurge worldwide, modern socialist activists and Left parties can learn pivotal lessons about political strategies, tactics, and goals for urgent 21st-century struggles. Here are a few quotations from this enormously relevant book.

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Revolution: ready or not

“History does not tarry until the corresponding class, in our case the proletariat, organizes itself, clarifies its consciousness, and steels its will, in order then graciously to invite it to accomplish the revolution on the basis of these socially and economically mature conditions. No, things happen in a different way. The objective necessity of revolution may already be completely at hand. The working class may, however, not yet be fully prepared, while the Communist Party, may, of course, embrace only an insignificant minority of the working class. Comrades, what will occur then? There will occur a very prolonged and sanguinary [bloody] revolution, and in the very course of the revolution the party and the working class will have to make up for what they lacked at the outset.” [Vol. I, Ch. 26]

Timing is everything

Having a large electoral base of 3,600,000 communist workers proved to be no guarantee of success in Germany in the early 1920s’. Correct timing and strategy is crucial in the revolutionary process. As Trotsky notes in the introduction:

“Two greatest lessons mark the history of the German Communist Party: March 1921 and November 1923. In the first case, the party mistook its own impatience for a mature revolutionary situation; in the second case, it was unable to recognize a mature revolutionary situation and let it slip by. … Fascism was and remains strongest in those countries where the proletariat came closest to power, but was unable to hold it: Italy, Germany, Hungary, etc.”

The need for a revolutionary party

“Without our party the 1917 [Russian] overturn would not, of course, have taken place and the entire fate of our country would have been different. It would have been thrown back to vegetate as a colonial country; it would have been plundered by and divided among the imperialist powers of the world. That this did not happen was guaranteed historically by the arming of the working class with the incomparable sword, our Communist Party. This did not happen in post-war Europe.” [Vol. II, Ch. 28]

For example:

“In September 1920 the working class of Italy had, in effect, gained control of the state, of society, of factories, plants and enterprises. What was lacking? A party was lacking, which would, resting upon the insurrectionary working class, have engaged in an open struggle with the bourgeoisie for those remnants of material forces still in the latter’s hands, destroying those forces, seizing power and thus consummating the victory of the working class.” [Vol. II, Ch. 20]

“[U]nder certain conditions even a small party can become the leading organization not only of the labor movement but also of the workers’ revolution. This can happen only on the proviso that this small party discerns in its smallness not an advantage but the greatest misfortune of which it must be rid as speedily as possible.” [Vol. I, Ch. 26]

Anarcho-syndicalism, pacifism and reformism — obstacles to revolution

Trotsky criticized the anarcho-syndicalists for proclaiming that the syndicates (trade unions) were

“… the sole legitimate and genuine revolutionary form of the labor movement. Counterposed to parliamentary representation … was the direct action of the working masses, and therewith the leading role was assigned to a formless, initiating minority, as the organ of this direct action.

“This brief characterization of syndicalism attests to the fact that . . . its fundamental theoretical errors militated against the creation of a stable, ideologically-fused revolutionary core, capable of counterposing itself in action to the patriotic and reformist tendencies.” [Vol. I, Ch. 10]

Anarchists deny that

“the struggle for the conquest of the state apparatus is revolutionary politics. To renounce it is to renounce the fundamental tasks of the revolutionary class.” [Vol. I, Ch. 10]

It is absolutely impermissible to take a position of

“tearful pacifism, which propagates among workers a debilitating hostility towards revolutionary violence in the face of the triumphant violence of the bourgeoisie. Under the guise of the struggle against militarism, a struggle is thus being conducted against the ideas of revolution.” [Vol. II, Ch. 8]

“The objective conditions of the capitalist world are today least suited for reformism and pacifism. But it is quite probable that the foundering of these illusions in practice will have to be experienced before victory of the revolution becomes possible.” [Vol. II, Ch. 22]

“Our task will then consist in transforming the epoch of reformist and pacifist deception into a prelude to the conquest of power by the revolutionary proletariat.” [Vol. II, Ch. 20]

Revolutionary youth

“And when the hour of great battles strikes, a very great role will be played in them by the youth. We need only recall the Red Army in which the youth played a decisive role not only politically but in a purely military sense. As a matter of fact, what is the Red Army, Comrades? It is nothing but the armed and organized youth of Russia. What did we do when we had to launch an offensive? We appealed to the organizations of the youth, and these organizations would carry out a mobilization.” [Vol. I, Ch. 26]

Key to success: building a united front around transitional demands

“Preparation for us means the creation of such conditions as would secure us the sympathy of the broadest masses. We cannot under any conditions renounce this factor. The idea of replacing the will of the masses by the resoluteness of the so-called vanguard is absolutely impermissible and non-Marxist.” [Vol. I, Ch. 26]

“We must conquer the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the toilers . . . in the course of struggle for the transitional demands under the general slogan of the proletarian united front.” [Vol. II, Ch. 22]

“The fighting slogans for the vital material demands of the proletariat must serve as a means of realizing in life the united front against economic and political reaction.” [Vol. II, Ch. 25]

“The party of the social revolution is obligated to learn in action how to fuse together the majority of the working class, utilizing to this end every opportunity for mass action that opens up. The outlived groupings and factions are interested in preserving intact and immutable all the barriers dividing the working class into segments. We, on the other hand, have a vital stake in pulling down these barriers of conservatism and in teaching the working class to follow our example. Herein lies the whole meaning of the united front policy, a meaning which derives directly from the social revolutionary essence of our party.” [Vol. II, Ch. 18]

“The tactic of the workers’ united front must be our governing rule for every mass action.” [Vol. II, Ch. 25]

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