J. V. Stalin


Speech Delivered at a Joint Plenum of the Central Committee
and the Central Control Commission, C.P.S.U.(B.)
July 15, 1926

First published in the book:
J. Stalin, On the Opposition,
Articles and Speeches, 1921-27,
Moscow and Leningrad, 1928

From J. V. Stalin, On the Opposition,
Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1974

pp. 347-62.

Based on J. V. Stalin, Works,
Foreign Languages Publishing House,
Moscow, 1954

Vol. 8, pp. 225-44.

Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, [email protected] (October 1999)

The articles and speeches by J. V. Stalin contained in English edition of On the Opposition follow the order of the Russian edition put out by the State Publishing House of the Soviet Union in 1928. The English translation, including the notes at the end of the book, is taken from Stalin's Works, Vols. 5-10, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1953-54, with some technical changes.

    References in Roman numerals to Lenin's Works mentioned in the text are to the third Russian edition. The English references are indicated by the publisher in footnotes.

page 347


Speech Delivered at a Joint Plenum of the Central Committee
   and the Central Control Commission, C.P.S.U.(B.)

July 15, 1926

    Comrades, we are passing through a period of the accumulation of forces, a period of winning over the masses and of preparing the proletariat for new battles. But the masses are in the trade unions. And in the West the trade unions, the majority of them, are now more or less reactionary. What, then, should be our attitude towards the trade unions? Should we, can we, as Communists, work in the reactionary trade unions? It is essentially this question that Trotsky put to us in his letter recently published in Pravda. There is nothing new, of course, in this question. It was raised before Trotsky by the "ultra-Lefts" in Germany, some five years ago. But Trotsky has seen fit to raise it again. How does he answer it? Permit me to quote a passage from Trotsky's letter:

    * The speech is given here in abbreviated form.

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    "The entire present 'superstructure' of the British working class, in all its shades and groupings without exception, is an apparatus for putting a brake on the revolution. This presages for a long time to come the pressure of the spontaneous and semi-spontaneous movement on the framework of the old organisations and the formation of new, revolutionary organisations as the result of this pressure" (see Pravda, No. 119, May 26, 1926).

    It follows from this that we ought not to work in the "old" organisations, if we do not want to "retard" the revolution. Either what is meant here is that we are already in the period of a direct revolutionary situation and ought at once to set up self-authorised organisations of the proletariat in place of the "old" ones, in place of the trade unions -- which, of course, is incorrect and foolish. Or what is meant here is that "for a long time to come" we ought to work to replace the old trade unions by "new, revolutionary organisations."

    This is a signal to organise, in place of the existing trade unions, that same "Revolutionary Workers' Union" which the "ultra-Left" Communists in Germany advocated some five years ago, and which Comrade Lenin vigorously opposed in his pamphlet "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder. It is in point of fact a signal to replace the present trade unions by "new," supposedly "revolutionary" organisations, a signal, consequently, to withdraw from the trade unions.

    Is that policy correct? It is fundamentally incorrect. It is fundamentally incorrect because it runs counter to the Leninist method of leading the masses. It is incorrect because, for all their reactionary character, the trade unions of the West are the most elementary organisations of the proletariat, those best understood by the most backward workers, and therefore the most comprehensive organisations of the proletariat. We cannot find our way to the masses, we cannot win them over if we by-pass these trade unions. To adopt Trotsky's stand

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point would mean that the road to the vast masses would be barred to the Communists, that the working-class masses would be handed over to the tender mercies of Amsterdam,[76] to the tender mercies of the Sassenbachs and the Oudegeests.[77]

    The oppositionists here have quoted Comrade Lenin. Allow me, too, to quote what Lenin said:

    "We cannot but regard also as ridiculous and childish nonsense the pompous, very learned, and frightfully revolutionary talk of the German Lefts to the effect that Communists cannot and should not work in reactionary trade unions, that it is permissible to turn down such work, that it is necessary to leave the trade unions and to create without fail a brand-new, immaculate 'Workers' Union' invented by very nice (and, probably, for the most part very youthful) Communists" (see Vol. XXV, pp. 193-94).[1]

    And further:

    "We wage the struggle against the 'labour aristocracy' in the name of the masses of the workers and in order to win them to our side; we wage the struggle against the opportunist and social-chauvinist leaders in order to win the working class to our side. To forget this most elementary and most self-evident truth would be stupid. And it is precisely this stupidity that the German 'Left' Communists are guilty of when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the trade-union top leadership, they jump to the conclusion that -- we must leave the trade unions!! that we must refuse to work in them!! that we must create new, artificial forms of labour organisation!! This is such unpardonable stupidity that it is equivalent to the greatest service the Communists could render the bourgeoisie" (ibid., p. 196).[2]

    I think, comrades, that comment is superfluous.

    This raises the question of skipping over the reactionary character of the trade unions in the West, which has not yet been outlived. This question was brought forward at the

    [1] Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder.  VI. Should Revolutionaries Work in Reactionary Trade Unions? (1920)
    [2] Ibid.

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rostrum here by Zinoviev. He quoted Martov and assured us that the point of view opposed to skipping over, the point of view that it is not permissible for Marxists to skip over and ignore the backwardness of the masses, the backwardness and reactionariness of their leaders, is a Menshevik point of view.

    I affirm, comrades, that this unscrupulous manoeuvre of Zinoviev's in citing Martov is evidence of one thing only -- Zinoviev's complete departure from the Leninist line.

    I shall endeavour to prove this in what follows.

    Can we, as Leninists, as Marxists, at all skip over and ignore a movement that has not outlived its day, can we skip over and ignore the backwardness of the masses, can we turn our back on them and pass them by; or ought we to get rid of such features by carrying on an unrelaxing fight against them among the masses? That is one of the fundamental questions of communist policy, one of the fundamental questions of Leninist leadership of the masses. The oppositionists spoke here of Leninism. Let us turn to the prime source, to Lenin.

    It was in April 1917. Lenin was in controversy with Kamenev. Lenin did not agree with Kamenev, who overestimated the role of petty-bourgeois democracy. But Lenin was not in agreement with Trotsky either, who underestimated the role of the peasant movement and "skipped over" the peasant movement in Russia. Here are Lenin's words:

    "Trotskyism says: 'No tsar, but a workers' government.' That is incorrect. The petty bourgeoisie exists, and it cannot be left out of account. But it consists of two sections. The poorer section follows the working class" (see Lenin's speech in the minutes of the Petrograd Conference of April 1917, p, 17[78]).
    "Now, if we were to say, 'no tsar, but a dictatorship of the proletariat,' that would be skipping over * the petty bourgeoisie" (see Lenin's speech in the minutes of the All-Russian Conference of April 1917, p. 76[79]).

    * My italics. -- J. St.

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    And further:

    "But are we not incurring the danger of succumbing to subjectivism, of desiring to 'skip over' the uncompleted bourgeois-democratic revolution -- which has not yet outlived the peasant movement -- to a socialist revolution? I should be incurring that danger if I had said: 'No tsar, but a workers' government.' But I did not say that; I said something else. . . . I absolutely insured myself in my theses against any skipping over the peasant movement, or the petty-bourgeois movement generally, which has not yet outlived its day, against any playing at the 'seizure of power' by a workers' government, against Blanquist adventurism in any shape or form, for I pointed directly to the experience of the Paris Commune"[*] (see Vol. XX, p. 104).[1]

    That is clear, one would think. The theory of skipping over a movement which has not outlived its day is a Trotskyist theory. Lenin does not agree with this theory. He considers it an adventurist one.

    And here are a few more quotations, this time from other writings -- from those of a "very prominent" Bolshevik whose name I do not want to mention for the present, but who also takes up arms against the skipping-over theory.

    "In the question of the peasantry, which Trotsky is always trying to 'skip over,' we would have committed the most egregious blunders. Instead of the beginnings of a bond with the peasants, there would now be thoroughgoing estrangement from them."


    "Such is the 'theoretical' foundation of Parvusism and Trotskyism. This 'theoretical' foundation was later minted into political slogans, such as: 'no tsar, but a workers' government.' This slogan sounds very plausible now that after a lapse of fifteen years we have achieved Soviet power in alliance with the peasantry. No tsar -- that's fine! A workers' government -- better still! But if it be recalled that this slogan was put forward

    * My italics. -- J. St.
    [1] Lenin,
Letters on Tactics. First Letter, Assessment of the Present Situation. (1917)

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in 1905, every Bolshevik will agree that at that time it meant 'skipping over' the peasantry altogether."


    "But in 1905 the 'permanentists' wanted to foist on us the slogan: 'Down with the tsar and up with a workers' government!' But what about the peasantry? Does it not stare one in the face, this complete non-comprehension and ignoring of the peasantry in a country like Russia? If this is not 'skipping over' the peasantry, then what is it?"


    "Failing to understand the role of the peasantry in Russia, 'skipping over' the peasantry in a peasant country, Trotskyism was all the more incapable of understanding the role of the peasantry in the international revolution."

    Who, you will ask, is the author of these formidable passages against Trotskyism and the Trotskyist skipping-over theory? The author of these formidable passages is none other than Zinoviev. They are taken from his book Leninism, and from his article "Bolshevism or Trotskyism?"

    How could it happen that a year ago Zinoviev realised the anti-Leninist character of the skipping-over theory, but has ceased to realise it now, a year later? The reason is that he was then, so to speak, a Leninist, but has now got himself hopelessly bogged, with one leg in Trotskyism and the other in Shlyapnikovism, in the "Workers' Opposition."[80] And here he is, floundering between these two oppositions, and compelled now to speak here from this rostrum, quoting Martov. Against whom is he speaking? Against Lenin. And for whom is he speaking? For the Trotskyists.

    To such depths has Zinoviev fallen.

    It may be said that all this concerns the question of the peasantry, but has no bearing on the British trade unions. But that is not so, comrades. What has been said about the unsuitability

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in politics of the skipping-over theory has a direct bearing on the trade unions in Britain, and in Europe generally; it has a direct bearing on the question of leadership of the masses, on the question of the ways and means of emancipating them from the influence of reactionary, reformist leaders. Pursuing their skipping-over theory, Trotsky and Zinoviev are trying to skip over the backwardness, the reactionariness of the British trade unions, trying to get us to overthrow the General Council from Moscow, without the British trade-union masses. But we affirm that such a policy is stupidity, adventurism; that the reactionary leaders of the British trade-union movement must be overthrown by the British trade-union masses themselves, with our help ; that we must not skip over the reactionary character of the trade-union leaders, but must help the British trade-union masses to get rid of it.

    You will see that there certainly is a connection between policy in general and policy towards the trade-union masses.

    Has Lenin anything on this point?

    Listen to this:

    "The trade unions were a tremendous step forward for the working class in the early days of capitalist development, as marking the transition from the disunity and helplessness of the workers to the rudiments of class organisation. When the highest form of proletarian class association began to develop, viz., the revolutionary party of the proletariat (which will not deserve the name until it learns to bind the leaders with the class and the masses into one single indissoluble whole), the trade unions inevitably began to reveal certain reactionary features, a certain craft narrowness, a certain tendency to be non-political, a certain inertness, etc. But the development of the proletariat did not, and could not, proceed anywhere in the world otherwise than through the trade unions, through interaction between them and the party of the working class' (see Vol. XXV, p. 194).[1]

    [1] Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder.  VI. Should Revolutionaries Work in Reactionary Trade Unions? (1920)

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    And further:

    "To fear this 'reactionariness,' to try to avoid it, to skip over [*] it, is the height of folly, for it means fearing that role of the proletarian vanguard which consists in training, educating, enlightening and drawing into the new life the most backward strata and masses of the working class and peasantry" (ibid., p. 195).

    That is how matters stand with the skipping-over theory as applied to the trade-union movement.

    Zinoviev would have done better not to come forward here quoting Martov. He would have done better to say nothing about the skipping-over theory. That would have been much better for his own sake. There was no need for Zinoviev to swear by Trotsky: we know as it is that he has deserted Leninism for Trotskyism.

    That is how matters stand, comrades, with the Trotskyist theory of skipping over the backwardness of the trade unions, the backwardness of the trade-union movement, and the backwardness of the mass movement in general.

    Leninism is one thing, Trotskyism is another.

    This brings us to the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee. It has been said here that the Anglo-Russian Committee is an agreement, a bloc between the trade unions of our country and the British trade unions. That is perfectly true. The Anglo-Russian Committee is the expression of a bloc, of an agreement between our unions and the British unions, and this bloc is not without its political character.

    This bloc sets itself two tasks. The first is to establish contact between our trade unions and the British trade unions, to organise a united movement against the capitalist offensive to widen the fissure between Amsterdam and the British trade

    * My italics. -- J. St.

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union movement, a fissure which exists and which we shall widen in every way, and, lastly, to bring about the conditions essential for ousting the reformists from the trade unions and for winning over the trade unions of the capitalist countries to the side of communism.

    The second task of the bloc is to organise a broad movement of the working class against new imperialist wars in general, and against intervention in our country by (especially) the most powerful of the European imperialist powers, by Britain in particular.

    The first task was discussed here at adequate length, and, therefore, I shall not dwell upon it. I should like to say a few words here about the second task, especially as regards intervention in our country by the British imperialists. Some of the oppositionists say that this second task of the bloc between our trade unions and the British is not worth talking about, that it is of no importance. Why, one asks? Why is it not worth talking about? Is not the task of safeguarding the security of the first Soviet Republic in the world, which is moreover the bulwark and base of the international revolution, a revolutionary task? Are our trade unions independent of the Party? Is our view that of the independence of our trade unions -- that the state is one thing, and the trade unions another? No, as Leninists, we do not and cannot hold that view. It should be the concern of every worker, of every worker organised in a trade union, to protect the first Soviet Republic in the world from intervention. And if in this the trade unions of our country have the support of the British trade unions, although they are reformist unions, is that not obviously something to be welcomed?

    Those who think that our unions cannot deal with state matters go over to the standpoint of Menshevism. That is the

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standpoint of Sotsialistichesky Vestnik.[81] It is not one we can accept. And if the reactionary trade unions of Britain are prepared to join with the revolutionary trade unions of our country in a bloc against the counter-revolutionary imperialists of their country, why should we not welcome such a bloc? I stress this aspect of the matter in order that our opposition may at last understand that in trying to torpedo the Anglo-Russian Committee it is playing into the hands of the interventionists.

    Hence, the Anglo-Russian Committee is a bloc of our trade unions with the reactionary trade unions of Britain, the object of which is, firstly, to strengthen the connections between our trade unions and the trade-union movement of the West and to revolutionise the latter, and, secondly, to wage a struggle against imperialist wars in general, and intervention in particular.

    But -- and this is a question of principle -- are political blocs with reactionary trade unions possible at all? Are such blocs permissible at all for Communists?

    This question faces us squarely, and we have to answer it here. There are some people -- our oppositionists -- who consider such blocs impossible. The Central Committee of our Party, however, considers them permissible.

    The oppositionists have invoked here the name of Lenin. Let us turn to Lenin:

    "Capitalism would not be capitalism if the 'pure' proletariat were not surrounded by a mass of exceedingly motley intermediate types between the proletarian and the semi-proletarian (who earns his livelihood in part by the sale of his labour power), between the semi-proletarian and the small peasant (and the petty artisan, handicraft worker and small proprietor in general), between the small peasant and the middle peasant, and so on, and if the proletariat itself were not divided into more developed and less developed strata, if it were not divided according to place of birth, trade, sometimes according to religion, and so on. And from all

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this follows the necessity, the absolute necessity for the vanguard of the proletariat, for its class-conscious section, for the Communist Party, to resort to manoeuvres, arrangements and compromises with the various groups of proletarians, with the various parties of the workers and small proprietors. The whole point lies in knowing how to apply these tactics in order to raise, and not lower, the general level of proletarian political consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win" (see Vol. XXV, p. 213).[1]

    And further:

    "That the Hendersons, Clyneses, MacDonalds and Snowdens are hopelessly reactionary is true. It is equally true that they want to take power into their own hands (though, incidentally, they prefer a coalition with the bourgeoisie), that they want to 'rule' on the old bourgeois lines, and that when they do get into power they will unfailingly behave like the Scheidemanns and Noskes. All that is true. But it by no means follows that to support them is treachery to the revolution, but rather that in the interests of the revolution the working-class revolutionaries should give these gentlemen a certain amount of parliamentary support" (ibid., pp. 218-19).[2]

    Hence, it follows from what Lenin says that political agreements, political blocs between the Communists and reactionary leaders of the working class are quite possible and permissible.

    Let Trotsky and Zinoviev bear this in mind.

    But why are such agreements necessary at all?

    In order to gain access to the working-class masses, in order to enlighten them as to the reactionary character of their political and trade-union leaders, in order to sever from the reactionary leaders the sections of the working class that are moving to the Left and becoming revolutionised, in order, consequently, to enhance the fighting ability of the working class as a whole.

    [1] Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder.  VIII. No Compromises? (1920)
    [2] Ibid., IX. "Left-Wing" Communism in Great Britain.

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    Accordingly, such blocs may be formed only on two basic conditions, viz., that we are ensured freedom to criticise the reformist leaders, and that the necessary conditions for severing the masses from the reactionary leaders are ensured.

    Here is what Lenin says on this score:

    "The Communist Party should propose a 'compromise' to the Hendersons and Snowdens, an election agreement: let us together fight the alliance of Lloyd George and the Conservatives, let us divide the parliamentary seats in proportion to the number of votes cast by the workers for the Labour Party or for the Communists (not at the elections, but in a special vote), and let us retain complete liberty of agitation, propaganda and political activity. Without this last condition, of course, we cannot agree to a bloc, for it would be treachery; the British Communists must absolutely insist on and secure complete liberty to expose the Hendersons and the Snowdens in the same way as (for fifteen years, 1903-17) the Russian Bolsheviks insisted on and secured it in relation to the Russian Hendersons and Snowdens, i.e., the Mensheviks" (see Vol. XXV, p. 223).[1]

    And further:

    "The petty-bourgeois democrats (including the Mensheviks) inevitably vacillate between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, between bourgeois democracy and the Soviet system, between reformism and revolutionism between love for the workers and fear of the proletarian dictatorship, etc. The correct tactics for the Communists must be to utilise these vacillations, not to ignore them; and to utilise them calls for concessions to those elements which turn towards the proletariat -- whenever and to the extent that they turn towards the proletariat -- in addition to fighting those who turn towards the bourgeoisie. The result of the application of correct tactics is that Menshevism has disintegrated, and is increasingly disintegrating in our country, that the stubbornly opportunist leaders are being isolated, and that the best of the workers and the best elements among the petty-bourgeois democrats are being brought into our camp "* (see Vol. XXV, pp. 213-14)[2]

    * My italics. -- J. St.
    [1] Ibid., IX. "Left-Wing" Communism in Great Britain.
    [2] Ibid., VIII. No Compromises?

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    There you have the conditions without which no blocs or agreements with reactionary trade-union leaders are permissible.

    Let the opposition bear that also in mind.

    The question arises: Is the policy of our trade unions in conformity with the conditions Comrade Lenin speaks of?

    I think that it is in full conformity. In the first place, we have completely reserved for ourselves full freedom to criticise the reformist leaders of the British working class and have availed ourselves of that freedom to a degree unequalled by any other Communist Party in the world. In the second place, we have gained access to the British working-class masses and strengthened our ties with them. And in the third place, we are effectively severing, and have already severed, whole sections of the British working class from the reactionary leaders. I have in mind the rupture of the miners with the leaders of the General Council.

    Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev have studiously avoided saying anything here about the conference of Russian and British miners in Berlin and about their declaration.[82] Yet, surely, that is a highly important fact of the recent period. Richardson, Cook, Smith, Richards -- what are they? Opportunists, reformists. Some of them are called Lefts, others Rights. All right! Which of them are more to the Left is something history will decide. It is very difficult for us to make this out just now -- the waters are dark and the clouds thick. But one thing is clear, and that is that we have severed these vacillating reformist leaders, who have the following of one million two hundred thousand striking miners, from the General Council and linked them with our trade unions. Is that not a fact? Why does the opposition say nothing about it?

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Can it be that it does not rejoice at the success of our policy? And when Citrine now writes that the General Council and he are agreed to the Anglo-Russian Committee being convened, is that not a result of the fact that Schwartz and Akulov have succeeded in winning over Cook and Richardson, and that the General Council, being afraid of an open struggle with the miners, was therefore forced to agree to a meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee? Who can deny that all these facts are evidence of the success of our policy, that all this is evidence of the utter bankruptcy of the policy of the opposition?

    Hence, blocs with reactionary trade-union leaders are permissible. They are necessary, on certain conditions. Freedom of criticism is the first of them. Our Party is observing this condition. Severance of the working-class masses from the reactionary leaders is another condition. Our Party is observing this condition too. Our Party is right. The opposition is wrong.

    The question arises: What more do Zinoviev and Trotsky want of us?

    What they want is that our Soviet trade unions should either break with the Anglo-Russian Committee, or that they, acting from here, from Moscow, should overthrow the General Council. But that is stupid, comrades. To demand that we, acting from Moscow, and by-passing the British workers' trade unions, by-passing the British trade-union masses, by-passing the British trade-union officials, skipping over them, that we, acting from here, from Moscow, should overthrow the General Council -- is not that stupid, comrades?

    They demand a demonstrative rupture. Is it difficult to understand that if we did that, the only result would be our own discomfiture? Is it difficult to understand that in the

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event of a rupture we lose contact with the British trade-union movement, we throw the British trade unions into the embraces of the Sassenbachs and Oudegeests, we shake the foundations of the united front tactics, and we delight the hearts of the Churchills and Thomases, without getting anything in return except discomfiture?

    Trotsky takes as the starting point of his policy of theatrical gestures, not concrete human beings, not the concrete workers of flesh and blood who are living and struggling in Britain, but some sort of ideal and ethereal beings who are revolutionary from head to foot. Is it difficult, however, to understand that only persons devoid of common sense take ideal, ethereal beings as the starting point of their policy?

    That is why we think that the policy of theatrical gestures, the policy of overthrowing the General Council from Moscow, by the efforts of Moscow alone, is a ridiculous and adventurist policy.

    The policy of gestures has been the characteristic feature of Trotsky's whole policy ever since he joined our Party. We had a first application of this policy at the time of the Brest Peace, when Trotsky refused to sign the German-Russian peace agreement and countered it with a theatrical gesture, believing that a gesture was enough to rouse the proletarians of all countries against imperialism. That was a policy of gestures. And, comrades, you know very well how dear that gesture cost us. Into whose hands did that theatrical gesture play? Into the hands of the imperialists, the Mensheviks, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and all who were then trying to strangle the Soviet power, which at that time was not firmly established.

    Now we are asked to adopt the same policy of theatrical gestures towards the Anglo-Russian Committee. They demand

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a demonstrative and theatrical rupture. But who would benefit from that theatrical gesture? Churchill and Chamberlain Sassenbach and Oudegeest. That is what they want. That is what they are waiting for. They, the Sassenbachs and Oudegeests, want us to make a demonstrative break with the British labour movement and thus render things easier for Amsterdam. They, the Churchills and Chamberlains, want the break in order to make it easier for them to launch intervention to provide them with a moral argument in favour of the interventionists.

    These are the people into whose hands our oppositionists are playing.

    No, comrades, we cannot adopt this adventurist course.

    But such is the fate of "ultra-Left" phrasemongers. Their phrases are Leftist, but in practice it turns out that they are aiding the enemies of the working class. You go in on the Left and come out on the Right.

    No, comrades, we shall not adopt this policy of theatrical gestures -- we shall no more adopt it today than we did at the time of the Brest Peace. We shall not adopt it because we do not want our Party to become a plaything in the hands of our enemies.

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