Dear Comrade Paz,

To the joint letter – which I do not have to characterise as would be proper in my reply since I am sure I will be collaborating with the majority of the signers, who signed by mistake – you add a private letter that gives me the opportunity to reply to you in complete frankness, complete freedom, and even complete brutality.

You call me “boss” and, in making this designation, you take upon yourself the right to instruct and guide me. You point out to me on every occasion how a “boss” ought to conduct himself, how he ought to organise his time, what work he ought to give up in order to devote himself to others that you assign him. Perhaps you will permit me to ask you whether your time and your forces are organised in accordance with this great revolutionary task of which you wish to be the “axis”? Because your letter deals with that question only: Who will be the axis? And your break with the weekly paper, the hostility that you show to it, your accusations against Gourget and now against Rosmer, turn about this same “axis.”

I do not know if I am the “boss” and especially if I am the boss that you deem proper. I rather think not. But in my relations with my friends as well as with my enemies I have no other consideration than the revolutionary cause. Personal prejudices are absolutely foreign to me. As I have said many times, I wished Contre le Courant to become a weekly. In Constantinople, you had as yet only counterposed the financial aspect to this project. You told me, in confirmation of what I already knew, that the expenses of Contre le Courant are covered by sums furnished by the Russian Opposition,[1] and that with the exhaustion of these funds the weekly edition of the paper presented difficulties. This argument struck me as strange. I couldn’t understand it. I said to myself, “It’s a passing remark. I shouldn’t exaggerate its importance“. It is correct that I had to accept your proposal for a semi-monthly [edition], but it was a matter for me (and for you) of a temporary measure, for two or three months at most.

In reality, the decision that was taken was for a weekly, with the perspective of a daily, and this is even indicated in your notebook. But you have not even come close to a daily, or a weekly, or even a semi-monthly. Contre le courant has become a collection of Russian documents, more now than before. One learns nothing from this paper about the French movement. We had worked out other projects as well for mass work. Nothing has been realised. I cannot see in Contre le courant the least trace of work undertaken to this end. And after I have waited patiently for four months, after I have repeated insistently that we had to get out from behind closed doors, and you have replied only with stories about Treint[2] and Souvarine – after four months, you present me an extract from your notebook to justify your documentation. But that is the conduct of a notary, not a revolutionary. And here is the decisive point. To publish our documents in Russia, our friends have given all they had and sacrificed all that people devoted to their cause could sacrifice. In Paris, it was not a matter of doing so much. To produce the weekly, it would have required altogether secondary and insignificant sacrifices: sacrifices of time and money. You begin, you set a good example, and then you make demands on others, because you have a right to make demands in the name of a common cause. But you have begun by stating the absence of a financial base and, then, to “deepen” the theory of abstention, you have added the absence of a theoretical base. Everything that has been said and done, up to this moment, is void and inoperable. To do something “solid,” we have to wait for your pamphlet. Oh, it’s an outrageous pretence just the same, and you yourself would not have decided, in other circumstances, on this unheard-of argument if you had not put yourself in a precarious situation, where you had to find, at whatever cost, something similar to an argumentation.

You do not find expressions forceful enough to disparage the five comrades who “took their inspiration from Constantinople”.[3] This sarcasm is out of place, and of bad taste. These comrades, however busy earning their living, came to help me at their own initiative and at their own risk, here, to Constantinople, in a very difficult moment. Their help was invaluable to me. All of this is proper. But there is another part to the story. I said to myself, after having observed them closely, that comrades who are capable of such initiative and such personal sacrifice are revolutionaries, or can become such, because it is in this way, Comrade Paz, that revolutionaries are formed. You can have revolutionaries both wise and ignorant, intelligent or mediocre. But you cannot have revolutionaries who lack the willingness to smash obstacles, who lack devotion and the spirit of sacrifice. I was not mistaken. These young comrades declared that they were completely prepared to give their time, their forces, their means for a weekly paper, and to mobilise others. So, they are doing what they have promised, and you are sabotaging their work instead of helping them. And it’s always because of the question of the “axis.”

But how do you imagine the place of a weekly destined to become a daily in a movement that must have ramifications everywhere? Do you believe that by devoting barely the free moments your active law practice lives you this task can be fulfilled? Do you believe you can manage the movement, or even a weekly paper associated with the movement, in passing, like a secondary task? I have a different idea of the revolutionary axis. I believe that the person who manages a workers’ paper, especially in a situation of heavy responsibilities like ours, ought to be occupied with this task only. I have been preoccupied a great deal with this question since your stay in Constantinople, when I learned for the first time, from you yourself, that you were a very busy lawyer. But I told myself that, since you wished to manage the weekly, you would naturally have to draw the necessary conclusions. And as I did not consider our relationship to be that of a boss to a slave, I did not point out to you what the distribution of your time had to be between the revolution and the courthouse. I suppose you know that when Haase wanted to become one of the axes of the German party, he found it necessary to abandon his law practice at Königsberg.[4] At the congress in Jena, there was much praise for Haase – even from Bebel – for having made the sacrifice of his annual income of thirty thousand marks. We Russians – I myself was present at the congress – were quite annoyed at these eulogies, which seemed to us perfectly petit bourgeois. I even spoke of this incident in one of my interventions, to characterise the German party’s lack of revolutionary spirit. And nevertheless Haase was not prepared for the revolutionary situations and the harsh turn of events.

I will not dwell upon the record of the Russian party in times of illegal work. The person who belonged to the movement belonged not only with his material means but with his body and soul. He identified openly with the cause he served, and it was by such a process of education that we were able to create the fighters who became the many “axes” of the proletarian revolution.

Comrade Paz, I speak frankly and even brutally in order to save whatever may still be saved. It is no longer time for mincing words, for the situation is too serious. I am neither a fanatic nor a sectarian. I can very well understand a person who sympathises with the communist cause without leaving his milieu. Assistance of this sort can be very valuable for us. But it is the assistance of a sympathiser. I discussed this question in a letter to my American friends.

Eastman[5] had written to me, without mincing words himself, that such was his personal situation. He designates himself a “fellow-traveler,” does not aspire, in his own words, to any leading role in the movement of the Opposition, and is content to assist it. He does translations; he has turned over his copyrights to the Militant, etc. And why? Because he cannot give himself entirely to the movement. And he has acted correctly.

You must understand that the person who is the “axis,” that is, the leader or one of the leaders of the revolutionary movement, assumes the right to call upon workers to make the greatest sacrifices, including that of their lives. This right involves no less important responsibilities. Otherwise, every intelligent worker will inevitably ask himself, “If X, who calls me to the greatest sacrifices, keeps four-fifths or two-thirds of his time not to assure my victory but to assure his bourgeois existence, that shows that he does not have confidence in the imminence of the coming revolution.” And this worker would be right.

Leave aside the program, please! It is not a matter of program. It’s a matter of revolutionary activity in general. Marx once said that a single step forward for the movement is worth more than ten programs. And Marx was an expert at programs just the same and even at manifestos, at least as much as you and I!

To conclude: your letters and above all your political attitude show me that communism is for you a sincere idea rather than a dominant conviction of life. And yet this conception is very abstract. Now, at the moment it is necessary (it would have been necessary a long time ago) to undertake action, which involves you to the very end, you begin instinctively to oppose it because of a double standard of behaviour. When you are invited to take part, you reply, “No resources and insufficient forces“. And, when the others begin to look for the resources and the forces, you say, “If I am not the axis, I am against“. What you are doing is unheard off. Even if you do not have confidence in a weekly paper, you ought to wait quietly and not sabotage it! You have no experience in those matters, and you go on blindly toward a new catastrophe! Tomorrow you will invoke theoretical, philosophical, political, and philological differences to justify your position. It’s not hard to understand how that will end up! If you do not want to enter the lists, wait quietly, keep a friendly neutrality, and do not present the sad spectacle of an unprincipled opposition, dictated by exclusively personal reasons.

With the greatest desire to save our political friendship,

L. Trotsky.

***

Notes:

*“How are revolutionaries formed”. La Verité, Nº 4, 1939. This is a letter to Maurice Paz (July 11, 1929), French lawyer by the opposition, linked to Contre le Courant. He was one of the firsts to visit Trotsky in Turkey, and provided him important personal services. Trotsky tries to convinced him of the necessity of publishing a Seminary of the Opposition in France, and got impatient when Paz spent months spinning around this. Trotsky wrote this letter once he had already started debating with other people from the French opposition the publication of the Seminary, which was to be called La Verité.

[1] Contre le Courant received financial help from the Russian Opposition through Piatakov, before their leaders were expelled from the CP, by the end of 1927. The first edition of Contre le Courant was launched on November 20, 1927. The German La Leninbund also received help through Piatakov.

[2] Albert Treint (1889-1972): Zinoviev’s supporter when he was the main leader of the French CP, by midst 1920’s; he was expelled in 2917 due to his support to the Unified Russian Opposition. In 1929, many oppositionists denied any relation with him, due to the role he previously had, when they were expelled. Then, he spent some time in the Left Opposition, before joining a trade-unionist group.

[3] Pierre Broué points out that, among the French who went to Prinkipo to debate the campaign around the seminary, there were Alfred Rosmer, Pierre Naville, Pierre Frank, Raymond Molinier and Jean van Heijenoort [Le Mouvement Comminuste en France].

[4] The German Social Democracy Congress, meeting in Jena, in September 1911, chose Hugo Haase as co-president of the party, together with August Bebel. Haase (1863-1919) took the leadership of a centrist minority –opposed to the war policy of the german Social Democracy, and that founded the USPD [Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany] in 1917. He was murdered in the stairs of the Reichstag by a right extremist.

[5] Max Eastman (1883-1969): director of The Masses before WWI, he was one of the first sympathisers of the Left Opposition, and translator of several Trotsky’s books. He repudiated the dialectic materialism during the 1920’s, and the socialism in the 30’s. He became anti-Communist and director of the Reader’s Digest.