Max Shachtman

Introduction to Leon Trotsky’s
The Strategy of World Revolution

(November 1930)

Source: Introduction (dated 20 November 1930) to Leon Trotsky, The Strategy of World Revolution, Communist League of America (Opposition), New York 1930.
This pamphlet contains the text of Trotsky’s Strategy and Tactics in the Imperialist Epoch, subsequently published in The Third International After Lenin.
Scanned and prepared for the Marxists’ Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

‘It seems’, Engels wrote to Eduard Bernstein, ‘that every workers’ party of a large country can only develop itself in internal struggle, as is established by dialectical laws of development in general.’ [1] What Engels wrote half a century ago in connection with the task of constituting a revolutionary party in France still holds good today in this sense: that decay and collapse threaten the workers’ party unless its foundations and superstructure are repeatedly tested to determine the soundness with which they meet the veering winds of the class struggle.

The regime imposed upon the official Communist movement throughout the world by a series of events, absolutely without precedent in history, formally prohibits such an examination in the domain over which it holds sway. And for good reason, because such a test is not only the principal prerequisite for the overthrow of the regime but a guarantee that this overthrow would follow. This explains why it greets its ideological adversaries in the ranks of Communism with such rabid fury, with abuse and falsehood, and even with physical violence and persecution. It regards the mildest questioning with nervous suspicion, and the idea of a grouping within the movement – however temporary – that defends a conception different from that which prevails, it denounces as heresy and treason, despite the fact that such groupings have not only been common in the movement but have frequently been necessary and have contributed to its progress.

Productive ideological thought, vibrant with the life that is possible only by absorption of experience, has been stifled by the official party regime, which substitutes for it a worthless product, thoroughly sterilised by the bureaucratic censor. Hand in hand with this degrading process goes the regimentation of the party. We have always conceived our self-imposed revolutionary discipline as fundamentally different from the discipline of the barracks. In the barracks, the soldier does not select his officers; he does not help to formulate the strategy and tactics of the army; he fights for a class other than his own; his function is bounded on all sides by the word ‘Obey!’. In the revolutionary army, that is, in the Communist Party, all this is reversed. More accurately, all this was reversed up to the time the movement became corroded by what has been properly called Stalinism.

It is not so much a rigid adherence to a political course that the dominant group in Communism demands of the membership. Even deviations from this course are tolerated, particularly since it is changed with bewildering abruptness and frequency. Like the English Established Church, which would ‘more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on one-thirty-ninth of its income’ [2], the bureaucracy is prepared to forgive anything but a flaunting [3] of its cardinal tenet: an unquestioning obedience that flows from a recognition of its own infallibility. This newly-discovered requirement for membership of the Communist Party has had devastating effects upon the Communist movement. It has consolidated a bureaucratic caste which is divided from the ranks of the movement and the realities of the struggle by an ever-widening gulf, and reflects their interests and demands with diminishing accuracy.

The recent history of the American Communist movement is replete with examples of the ravages of this system. In the sphere of leadership alone, its abuse have more than once been demonstrated – and, rejecting the spurious syndicalist philosophy of headlessness, the Marxist attaches great importance to the problem of leadership. In 1925, the desires and votes of two-thirds of the American Communist Party membership were swept aside by a cablegram from the Executive Committee of the Communist International which appointed the group representing the remaining third of the party to lead it. That is the origin of the four years of opportunist leadership of the Lovestone-Pepper faction in this country. In 1929, matters had progressed to the point where a similar decision from the international centre of the bureaucracy, the Stalinist machine, wiped out the desires and votes of nine-tenths of the party membership and appointed the Foster group, representing the remaining tenth, to direct the party’s destinies.

Naturally, such leaderships, which are made or unmade in ten minutes, are not to be taken seriously. And those who appoint them do not take them seriously. They demand of the national leaderships the same obedience and belief in infallibility that is demanded by the latter from those they are appointed to lead.

This pernicious system inevitably produces its own opponents. Unable to withstand any criticism of its policies, it resorts to expulsion of its critics and compels them to make these criticisms outside of the ranks of the official party. The expulsion of those elements whose point of view is so essential for the party’s progress only accentuates the critical situation by leaving the bureaucracy a freer hand for its ruinous conduct. In turn, this makes a revolutionary criticism an inescapable necessity for the movement.

It is with such a criticism that the present work of comrade Trotsky occupies itself. If anything had to be added to what events and words in the past have shown to disprove the view of the sages in the petty-bourgeois camp, and the petty-bourgeois in the Communist camp, who see nothing in the great historical dispute but a ‘personal fight between Trotsky and Stalin’, this work will more than suffice. Its pithy contrasting of the standpoint of the Left Opposition with that of the official point of view (Stalin-Bukharin), and an assembling of the facts and events by which these opposing views can be conclusively verified, shows that what is involved here relates to the most fundamental problems of the revolution. It has a more than ordinary significance for the American Communist movement, which is so unschooled in Marxian theory, whose revolutionary traditions are so vague and feeble, whose experiences are so limited. It will be of enormous aid in consolidating the vanguard, which has been demoralised by the vulgar ‘practical people’ who have only contempt (and fear) for theoretical consideration, without which no sound progress is possible. In addition, it will help to dispel the clouds of falsehood and distortion with which the real views of the Left Opposition have been enveloped, not only by the present leadership of the Fosters and Browders but by their predecessors in the Lovestone faction who still live largely by deliberately lying about the Opposition.

* * *

The work itself has an instructive history. It was written by comrade Trotsky in the early part of 1928, while in exile at Alma-Ata. It was part of a larger document sent to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, devoted to a criticism of the draft of a programme for the International submitted by Stalin and Bukharin, an aMIAble unity against the Left wing which Trotsky already then predicted would not last very long. Finding it impossible to suppress the document entirely, the bureaucracy took the first section, dealing with a criticism of the theory of socialism in one country, and the third section, dealing with a criticism of the policy pursued in the Chinese revolution, and presented it to a selected number of the delegates to the congress. Even these two sections were so strictly guarded that it was next to impossible for a delegate to retain a copy of them – yes, the very delegates who were presumably deciding upon its merits! Two of the delegates, however, comrades James P. Cannon of the American party and Maurice Spector of the Canadian party, were so deeply impressed by the document that they determined to bring it before the eyes of the Communist workers and to defend the views elucidated in it. A description of the manner in which a copy was finally obtained would read like a romance. It is sufficient to say – and what a crushing condemnation of the regime this is! – that a copy had to be literally smuggled out of the Soviet Union, so that the Communist workers might judge its merits by reading the document itself and not merely rely upon the bureaucrat’s cynically falsified version of it. It was finally published in the United States under the title The Draft Program of the Comintern: A Criticism of Fundamentals, and the effect it had in convincing some of the best militants in the movement of the correctness of the Opposition’s views fully confirmed the fears which animated the Stalin-Bukharin regime to suppress it.

The second section, which the international bureaucrats condemned all the more heartily because they had never read it, was never even presented to the Sixth Congress delegates. In fact, it was only sometime after the publication of the American edition that we even discovered that there had been a second section! We are glad to have been able to snatch this document out of the underground vaults of the apparatus and present it to the serious militants.

We wish to take this occasion to express the appreciation of the publishers for the generosity of our comrades Martin Abern, Max Engel, Morris Lewit and Philip Shulman. It is their financial contributions that made it possible for us to print this booklet and sell it at a price that insures a swift and wide distribution. We also wish to express our thanks to comrade Cornelia Davis who volunteered her valuable aid in correcting and checking the proofs.


1. Friedrich Engels to Eduard Bernstein, 20 October 1882 – MIA.

2. Karl Marx, Preface to First German Edition, Capital, Volume 1 – MIA.

3. The word ‘flouting’ is surely meant here – MIA.

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