Trotsky: "The Lever of a Small Group"

Submitted by AWL on 1 November, 2014 - 5:47 Author: Leon Trotsky

A letter to the British Trotskyists, 2 October 1933. The British Trotskyists were then a small group recently emerged from the Communist Party.

The Independent Labour Party had been the main precursor of the Labour Party, and then, as an affiliated group within the Labour Party, the main bulk of Labour's individual activist base. In 1932, after conflict with the Labour leadership, the ILP disaffiliated. ILP membership, which had stood at 17,000 in 1932, plummeted to just 4,000 in 1935, but there was also left-wing ferment within the ILP.

Trotsky favoured arguing within the ILP for an orientation back to Labour, but also for revolutionary Marxist ideas.

Click here for an article on the ILP and its subsequent history.

To the British Section Bolshevik-Leninists

Dear Comrades:

I received the copy of your letter of September 5 and allow myself to express a few additional considerations on the question of entry into the Independent Labour Party.

1. We do not exaggerate the significance of the Independent Labour Party. In politics as in the physical world, everything is relative. In comparison with your small group, the Independent Labour Party is a big organization. Your small lever is insufficient to move the Labour Party but can have a big effect on the Independent Labour Party.

2. It seems to me that you are inclined to look at the Independent Labour Party through the eyes of the Stalinist party, that is, to exaggerate the number of petty-bourgeois elements and minimize the proletarian' elements of the party. But if we should estimate that the workers make up only 10 percent (an obvious underestimation since you ignore the [illegible words], even then you will get one thousand revolutionary-minded workers, and in reality many more.

3. The jump from a thousand to ten thousand is much easier than the Jump from forty to one thousand.

4. You speak of the advantages of influencing the ILP from the outside. Taken on a wide historical scale, your arguments a re irrefutable, but there are unique, exceptional circumstances that we must know how to make use of by exceptional means. Today the revolutionary workers of the Independent Labour Party still hold on to their party. The perspective of joining a group of forty, the principles of which are little known to them can by no means appeal to them. If within the next year they should grow disappointed with the Independent Labour Party, they will go not to you but to the Stalinists, who will break these workers' necks.

If you enter the Independent Labour Party to work for the Bolshevik transformation of the party (that is, of its revolutionary kernel), the workers will look upon you as upon fellow workers, comrades, and not as upon adversaries who want to split the party from outside.

5. Had it been a question of a formed, homogeneous party with a stable apparatus, entry in it would not only be useless but fatal. But the Independent Labour Party is altogether in a different state. Its apparatus is not homogeneous and, therefore, permits great freedom to different currents. The revolutionary rank and file of the party eagerly seek solutions. Remaining as an independent group, you represent, in the eyes of the workers, only small competitors to the Stalinists. Inside the party you can much more successfully insulate the workers against Stalinism.

6. I believe (and this is my personal opinion) that even if you should give up your special organ you will be able to use to advantage the press of the Independent Labour Party, The New Leader and the discussion organ. The American Militant as well as the International Bulletin could well supplement your work.

7. Should all the members of your group enter the Independent Labour Party? This is a purely practical question (if your members who work inside the Communist Party of Great Britain have a wide field for their activity, they can remain there longer, although I personally believe that the useful effect of their work would be, under the present conditions, a few times greater in the Independent Labour Party).

8. Whether you will enter the Independent Labour Party as a faction or as individuals is a purely formal question. In essence, you will, of course, be a faction that submits to common discipline. Before entering the Independent Labour Party you make a public declaration: "Our views are known. We base ourselves on the principles of Bolshevism-Leninism and have formed ourselves as a part of the International Left Opposition. Its ideas we consider as the only basis on which the new International can be built We are entering the Independent Labour Party to convince the members of that party in daily practical work of the correctness of our ideas and of the necessity of the Independent Labour Party joining the initiators of the new International."

In what sense could such a declaration lower the prestige of your group? This is not clear to me.

Of course, the International Secretariat did not intend to and could not intend to force you by a bare order to enter the Independent Labour Party. If you yourselves will not be convinced of the usefulness of such a step, your entry will be to no purpose. The step is an exceptionably responsible one; it is necessary to weigh and consider it well. The aim of the present letter, as a well as of the foregoing ones, is to help in your discussion. With best comradely greetings,

L. Trotsky

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