1903-1904: Trotsky against Lenin
In 1904, the Russian empire was on the verge of revolution. The lumbering Czarist war machine was experiencing a humiliating defeat at the hands of a far more dynamic Japanese imperialism. The military debacle was fuelling the discontent of all strata of the population. In her pamphlet The Mass Strike, The Party and the Trade Unions, Rosa Luxemburg recounts how, already in the summer of 1903, at the very time that the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was holding its s famous Second Congress, southern Russia had been shaken by “a colossal general strike”. The war brought a temporary halt in the class movement, and for a while the liberal bourgeoisie took centre stage with its “protest banquets” against the autocracy; but by the end of the 1904 the Caucasus was again aflame with massive workers’ strikes around the issue of unemployment. Russia was a tinder box, and the spark that set it aflame was soon to be lit: the Bloody Sunday massacre in January 1905, when workers humbly petitioning the Czar to alleviate their appalling conditions were slaughtered in their hundreds by the Little Father’s Cossacks.
As we recounted in the first part of this article, the party of the proletariat, the RSDLP, was to confront this situation in the aftermath of a momentous split that had separated it into the Bolshevik and Menshevik fractions.
In his pamphlet Our Political Tasks, his overview of the Second Congress of the RSDLP where the split had taken place, Trotsky described the “nightmare” of the split, which had seen former comrades driven into hostile camps, and which now, as the working class faced the issue of war, of mass strikes and street demonstrations, left the marxist revolutionaries arguing bitterly about the internal organisation of the party, about rules of functioning and the composition of central organs. He laid the blame for this situation squarely on the shoulders of the man with whom he had worked closely in the exiled Iskra group, but who he now identified as the “head of the reactionary wing of our party” and as the arch disorganiser of the RSDLP – Lenin.
With many workers in Russia complaining that the party seemed to have lost itself in internal wrangling and was incapable of responding to the most pressing needs of the hour, Trotsky’s view seemed to have the backing of immediate reality. But with the hindsight of history, we can see that, although he made a number of important errors, it was Lenin who at that moment was the incarnation of the party’s most forward looking, revolutionary tendency, and Trotsky who had, along with other distinguished militants, fallen into a backward-looking position. The organisational questions posed by this split were in reality no abstraction divorced from the needs of the working class; they shared a common root with the issues posed by the growing social and political upheaval in Russia. The mass strikes and workers’ uprisings which swept Russia in 1905 were harbingers of a new epoch in the history of capitalism and the proletarian struggle: the end of the period of capitalist ascendancy and the opening of its period of decadence (see our article “1905: the mass strike opens the way to proletarian revolution.” in International Review 90), which would require the working class to go beyond its traditional forms of organisation, suited to the struggle for reforms within the capitalist system, and discover new forms of organisation capable of unifying the entire class and preparing it for the revolutionary overthrow of this system. In a nutshell, at the level of the mass organisations of the class, this transition was expressed in the passage from the trade union form of organisation to the soviet form, which made its first appearance in 1905.
But this profound change in the forms and methods of class organisation necessarily had its implications for the political organisations of the proletariat as well. As we tried to show in the first part of this article, the fundamental question posed at the Second Congress was the necessity to prepare for the coming revolutionary period by breaking from the old social democratic model of the party - a broad party, with the emphasis on “democracy” and the fight for improving the conditions of the working class within capitalist society – and constructing what Lenin called a revolutionary party of a new type, a narrower, more disciplined, centralised party, armed with a socialist programme for the overthrow of capitalism, and composed of committed revolutionaries.
In the next two articles, we are going to substantiate this view by examining the polemics that raged though 1904 between Lenin on the one hand and Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg on the other. In that period, as for most of his political career, Lenin was obliged to face criticisms from the entire spectrum of the workers’ movement. Not only from the Menshevik leaders like Martov, Axelrod and later Plekhanov, who accused him of acting like Robespierre at best and Napoleon at worst; not only from the acknowledged international leaders of social democracy like Kautsky and Bebel, who instinctively sided with the Mensheviks against this relatively unknown upstart, but also from those who were clearly on the left of the international movement – Trotsky and Luxemburg, both of whom were deeply influenced by the groundswell of revolution in Russia, both of whom were to make indispensable contributions to an understanding of the methods and forms of organisation appropriate to the new period, and both of whom signally failed to understand what Lenin’s organisational combat really meant.
In contrast to many of today’s revolutionaries, both Trotsky and Luxemburg did grasp one vital point about the organisation question: that it was a political question in its own right and a worthy subject for debate between revolutionaries. In publishing their criticisms of Lenin, they were consciously taking part in a profoundly significant international confrontation of ideas. Their contributions to this debate, furthermore, have left us with many brilliant flashes of insight. And yet for all these flashes, the arguments of both these militants remain fundamentally flawed.
Trotsky sides with the Mensheviks
In his autobiography My Life Trotsky recounts the arrival to his place of exile in Siberia in 1902 of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? and news of the Iskra paper “which had as its object the creation of a centralised organisation of revolutionaries who would be bound together by the iron discipline of action” (chap 9, “My First Exile”, p136, Penguin Books,1975) It was this perspective above all which convinced him of the necessity to escape and seek out the group of exiles which was publishing it. A weighty decision indeed, because it meant leaving his wife and two young daughters behind (even though his wife was a party comrade and had insisted that it was his duty to go) and undertaking an extremely hazardous journey across the wastes of Russia in order to reach western Europe.
Trotsky also tells us that upon arriving in London, where Lenin, Martov and Zasulitch were then living, he “fell in love with Iskra” and immediately threw himself into its work. The Iskra editorial board was made up of six members: Lenin, Martov, Zasulitch, Plekhanov, Axelrod and Potresov. Lenin soon proposed Trotsky as a seventh member, partly because six was an unworkable number when it came to making decisions, but perhaps more importantly because he knew that the older generation, in particular Zasulitch and Axelrod, were becoming an obstacle to the progress of the party, and wanted to inject into it some of the revolutionary fire of the new generation. This proposal was stymied by the opposition of Plekhanov, largely for personal reasons.
At the Second Congress, Trotsky had been one of the most consistent supporters of the Iskra line, vigorously defending it - and in particular Lenin’s positions - against the nit-picking or outright opposition of the Bundists, Economists and semi-Economists. And yet by the end of the Congress, Trotsky had thrown in his lot with the massed ranks of the “anti-Leninists”; in 1904 he produced two of the most vituperative polemics against Lenin, Report of the Siberian Delegation and Our Political Tasks, and had joined the “new Iskra”, reclaimed by the Mensheviks after Plekhanov had turned his coat and Lenin had resigned from it. We turn to Trotsky’s own reflections to gain some understanding of this extraordinary transformation.
It will be recalled that the actual split had not taken place over the famous differences about the party statutes, but over Lenin’s proposal to change the composition of Iskra’s editorial board. In My Life (chapter 12, “The Party Congress and the Split”, p166-8) Trotsky confirms that this was the decisive issue:
“How did I come to be with the “softs” at the congress? Of the Iskra editors, my closest connections were with Martov, Zasulitch and Axelrod. Their influence over me was unquestionable. Before the congress there were various shades of opinion on the editorial board, but no sharp differences. I stood furthest from Plekhanov, who, after the first really trivial encounters, had taken an intense dislike to me. Lenin’s attitude towards me was unexceptionally kind. But now it was he who, in my eyes, was attacking the editorial board, a body which was, in my opinion, a single unit, and which bore the exciting name of Iskra. The idea of a split within the board seemed nothing short of sacrilegious to me.
Revolutionary centralism is a harsh, imperative and exacting principle. It often takes the guise of absolute ruthlessness in its relation to individual members, to whole groups of former associates. It is not without significance that the words ‘irreconcilable’ and ‘relentless’ are among Lenin’s favourites. It is only the most impassioned, revolutionary striving for a definite end – a striving that is utterly free from anything base or personal – that can justify such personal ruthlessness. In 1903 the whole point at issue was nothing more than Lenin’s desire to get Axelrod and Zasulitch off the editorial board. My attitude to them was full of respect, and there was an element of personal affection as well. Lenin also thought highly of them for what they had done in the past. But he believed that they were becoming an impediment for the future. This led him to conclude that they must be removed from their position of leadership. I could not agree. My whole being seemed to protest against this merciless cutting off of the older ones when they were at last on the threshold of an organised party. It was my indignation at his attitude that really led to my parting with him at the Second Congress. His behaviour seemed unpardonable to me, both horrible and outrageous. And yet, politically it was right and necessary, from the point of view of organisation. The break with the older ones, who remained in the preparatory stages, was inevitable in any case. Lenin understood this before anyone else did. He made an attempt to keep Plekhanov by separating him from Zasulitch and Axelrod. But this, too, was equally futile, as subsequent events soon proved.
My break with Lenin occurred on what might be considered ‘moral’ or even personal grounds. But this was merely on the surface. At bottom the separation was of a political nature and merely expressed itself in the realm of organisation methods. I thought of myself as a centralist. But there is no doubt that at that time I did not fully realise what an intense and imperious centralism the revolutionary party would need to lead millions of people in a war against the old order. …At the time of the London Congress in 1903, revolution was still largely a theoretical abstraction to me. Independently, I still could not see Lenin’s centralism as the logical conclusion of a clear revolutionary concept…..”
Weight of the circle spirit
In One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back, in a passage we cited in the previous article about the difference between the party spirit and the circle spirit, Lenin characterises Iskra too as a circle; and while it is perfectly true that within this circle there was a clear tendency which consistently argued in favour of proletarian centralism, the weight of personal differences, of the exile mentality, and so on, was still very strong. Lenin was aware of Martov’s “softness”, his tendency to vacillate and conciliate, and Martov was equally aware of Lenin’s intransigence and was not always comfortable with it. Not being posed politically, this resulted in much unspoken tension. Plekhanov the father of Russian Marxism, and close to Lenin on many key issues right up until after the Second Congress, was deeply attached to his reputation and at the same time aware that he was being by-passed by a new generation (which included Lenin). He responded to Trotsky’s “invasion” of the Iskra circle with such hostility that all the other members found it deeply unworthy of him. And Trotsky? Again, despite his respect for Lenin, Trotsky had lived in the same house as Martov and Zasulitch; he developed an even closer friendship with Axelrod in Zurich and indeed dedicated Our Political Tasks to “my dear teacher, Pavel Bortsovich Axelrod”. To this extent “my break with Lenin occurred on what might be considered ‘moral’ or even personal grounds”. He sided with Martov and co. because they were more his friends than Lenin; he could not bear to be in the same camp as Plekhanov because of the latter’s personal slights against him; perhaps even more important, he displayed a truly conservative sentimentality towards the “old guard” which had served the revolutionary movement in Russia for so long. Indeed his personal reaction to Lenin at that time was so strong that many were shocked by the sharpness and uncomradely tone of his polemics against him (in his biography of Trotsky, Deutscher mentions that Iskra readers in Russia, in the period when the paper had fallen into Menshevik hands, had strongly objected to the tone of Trotsky’s diatribes against Lenin. See The Prophet Armed p 86, OUP edition).
But at the same time, “at bottom the separation was of a political nature and merely expressed itself in the realm of organisation methods”.
This formulation leaves room for ambiguity, for the idea that “organisation methods” is a secondary and non-political question, whereas the preponderance of personal ties and antagonisms in the old circles was precisely the political problem that Lenin was posing in his defence of the party spirit. In fact, all of Trotsky’s 1904 polemics have the same character: they reveal some very general political divergences, but again and again they come back to the question of organisational methods, or of the relationship between the revolutionary organisation and the working class as a whole.
Trotsky’s Report of the Siberian Delegation poses the main organisational issue straight away, and straight away reveals Trotsky’s failure to understand what was at stake in the Congress, since it insists that “The Congress is a register, a controller, but not a creator”. Which means – despite Trotsky’s qualification that “the party is not the arithmetical sum of local committees. The party is an organic totality” (ibid) – that the Congress is no longer the highest and most concrete expression of party unity. As Lenin put it in One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back: “At the time when we are re-establishing the real unity of our Party, and dissolving in this unity the circles which have outlived their usefulness, this summit is necessarily the Congress of the Party, which is its supreme organism”. Or again: “The controversy thus boils down to the dilemma: circle spirit or party spirit. Limitation of the rights of the delegates to the Congress, in the name of the imaginary rights or rules of all sorts of colleges or circles, or the complete, effective, and not merely verbal dissolution of all inferior instances, of all the little groups, before the Congress”.
Despite all the accusations made against Lenin’s conception of centralism, against his alleged desire to concentrate all power in the hands of an unaccountable central committee, or simply in his own hands as the Robespierre of the coming revolution, Lenin was absolutely clear that the supreme instance of a revolutionary proletarian party could only be its congress; this was the true centre to which all other parts of the organisation, whether central committee or local section, were subordinate; and this is what Lenin defended against the “democratist” view that the congress is simply a gathering place of representatives of the local sections, charged with a binding mandate which means they can do no more than act as the mouthpieces of those sections. This is what he defended against the anarchist revolt of the Mensheviks who refused to abide by its decisions.
Trotsky is right to say that at the time of the congress he had not yet fully grasped the question of centralism. This is also evident in another theme of the polemics – the old battle between Iskra and the Economists. In Report of the Siberian Delegation, Trotsky uses the argument that many of the Bolsheviks were former Economists who had simply flipped over towards hyper-centralism and the parroting of Lenin’s organisational “plans” (it was axiomatic for Trotsky at this stage that Lenin was the only real mind in the majority, the rest simply followed him like sheep, while the minority which he had joined was for real critical thinking). And yet this accusation turned reality on its head: having been united with Lenin against the Economists at the beginning of the Congress, the Mensheviks took up the bulk of the criticisms of Lenin initially raised by the likes of Akimov and Martynov, including the view that Lenin’s view of the party was preparing the ground for a dictatorship over the proletariat (indeed, Martynov himself even returned to the fold once Lenin had resigned from Iskra). By the same token, it had been the Economists who had advocated that the bourgeoisie had the task of carrying out the political revolution against Czarism, while social democrats should focus on the bread and butter of the daily class struggle. By 1904, Mensheviks like Zasulitch and Dan were talking more and more openly of the need for an alliance with the bourgeoisie in the coming revolution. And even Trotsky – who soon broke from the Mensheviks on the latter question above all, since it was not long before he began formulating his theory of permanent revolution, according to which the proletariat would necessarily take the leading role even in the approaching Russian revolution – by siding with the Mensheviks in 1903-4, also took on board their apology for the Economists’ positions.
This comes across very strongly in both texts: Trotsky spends a great deal of time in both waxing ironic about the time being wasted on discussing the minutiae of organisational detail while the masses in Russia are posing burning issues like mass strikes and demonstrations; like Axelrod, he also ridicules Lenin’s thesis that there can be opportunism on organisational questions: “Our intrepid polemicist (Lenin in One Step Forwards) still does not decide to put Axelrod and Martov in the category of opportunists in general (such an attractive idea from the standpoint of clarity and simplicity!), he creates for them the rubric ‘opportunist on organisational questions’. The concept of opportunism is then emptied of all political content. It becomes a ‘bogeyman’ for frightening little children….Opportunism in organisational questions! Girondism on the question of co-option by two-thirds in the absence of a motivated vote! Jauresism on the right of the Central Committee to fix where the administration of the League is to be!” (Our Political Tasks, part III). Behind the sarcasms, this argument actually represents a slide towards Economism because it downplays the distinct position and needs of the political organisation, whose mode of functioning is indeed a political question which cannot be simply side-stepped and drowned in talk about the class struggle in general. The question of functioning involves issues of principle which can indeed, under the pressure of bourgeois ideology, be subjected to opportunist interpretations.
Sliding back towards Economism
Trotsky’s texts, in fact, completely call into question the work of Iskra to which he had formerly been so attracted – its call for a centralised party with formal rules of functioning, its vital effort to pull the revolutionary movement away from the mire of terrorism, populism, Economism and other forms of opportunism. The Economists, Trotsky now implies, had their faults, but at least they had a real practise within the class, whereas Iskra’s main focus had been to win over the intelligentsia to marxism while issuing vague “proclamations” or focusing almost exclusively on distributing its press.
In the period before the Congress, Trotsky argues, “the organisation oscillated between two types: it was either conceived of as a technical apparatus for massive diffusion of published literature, be it within the country or abroad; or as a revolutionary ‘lever’ to involve the masses in an intended movement, that is, to develop in them pre-existing capacities for autonomous activity. The ‘craft’ organisation of the Economists was particularly close to the second type. Good or bad, this type of organisation was adapted to given forms of ‘practical resistance to capitalists by the workers’. Good or bad, it directly contributed to uniting and disciplining the workers in the ‘economic struggle’, that is, essentially, strike movements”. (Our Political Tasks, part II).
Here Trotsky completely passes by the central problem with this conception: that it reduces the revolutionary organisation to the level of a trade union type body. It’s not a question of good or bad, because there is obviously a need for the class to develop general organisations for the defensive struggle against capital. The problem is that the revolutionary minority cannot, by its very nature, play this role, and in attempting to do so, will forget its central role of political leadership within the movement.
But Iskra, Trotsky insists in this text, unlike the Economists, was not in the movement at all. “It is true that the party is now at least drawing closer to the proletariat for the first time. In the time of ‘Economism’ the work was entirely directed towards the proletariat, but in the first place it was not yet Social Democratic political work. During the period of Iskra, the work took on a Social Democratic character, but it was not directed straight towards the proletariat” (ibid, part I). In other words, Iskra’s main focus was not intervention in the immediate movement of the class, but conducting polemics within the intelligentsia. Trotsky thus counsels his readers to recognise the historical limitations of Iskra: “It is not enough to recognise the historical merits of Iskra, still less to enumerate all its unfortunate or ambiguous statements. We have to go further still: to understand the historically limited character of the role played by Iskra. It has contributed a lot to the process of differentiating the revolutionary intelligentsia; but it has also hampered its free development. The salon debates, the literary polemics, the intellectual disputes over a cup of tea, were all translated by it into the language of political programmes. In a materialist sense, it gave form to the multitude of theoretical and philosophical support for given class interests; and it was in using this ‘sectarian’ method of differentiation that it won to the cause of the proletariat a good part of the intelligentsia; finally it consolidated its ‘booty’ with the various resolutions of the Second Congress on the questions of programme, tactics and organisation” (ibid).
Trotsky’s references to “salon debates” and “intellectual disputes over a cup of tea” betray his temporary conversion to an immediatist, activist, and workerist suspicion for the tasks of the political organisation. By defining Economism and Iskra as equally valid and equally limited moments in the history of the party, he downplays the decisive role of the latter in the struggle for an organisation of revolutionaries capable of playing a leading role in the massive struggles of the class - a leading role, and not one of merely “assisting” strike movements.
This is more than an observation about Iskra’s sociological make-up, more than a mere flirtation with ouvrierism. It is connected to a theory that was to have a long history: the notion that the political vanguard is essentially the representative of an intelligentsia that seeks to impose itself on the working class. Of course this theory had its highest incarnation in the councilist critique of Bolshevism after the defeat of the Russian revolution, but it was certainly anticipated by Trotsky’s “dear teacher” Axelrod who argued that Lenin’s demand for ultra-centralism demonstrated that the Bolshevik current was actually an expression of the Russian bourgeoisie, since the latter also needed centralism to carry out its political tasks.
Trotsky and substitutionism
Trotsky’s re-interpretation of the contribution of Iskra is also linked to his criticisms of substitutionism and Jacobinism, which make up a large part of Our Political Tasks. In Trotsky’s view at this point, Iskra’s whole political conception, with its emphasis on political polemics against false revolutionary trends, was founded on a notion of acting on behalf of the proletariat:
“But how is it to be explained that the ‘substitutionist’ method of thought – substituting for the proletariat – practised in the most varied forms…throughout the whole period of Iskra, did not arouse self-criticism in the ranks of the Iskraists themselves? The reader has already found the explanation in the preceding pages. Hanging over all Iskra’s work was the task of fighting for the proletariat, for its principles, for its final goal – in the milieu of the revolutionary intelligentsia” (Part III).
It is in Our Political Tasks that Trotsky made his famously “prophetic” passage about substitutionism: “Lenin’s methods lead to this: the party organisation at first substitutes itself for the party as a whole; then the central committee substitutes itself for the organisation; and finally a single ‘dictator’ substitutes itself for the central committee” (part II). Here, as Deutscher notes in The Prophet Armed, Trotsky seemed to intuit the future degeneration of the Bolshevik party. Trotsky is equally perceptive when he outlines the danger of substitutionism with regard to the class as whole in the future revolution (dangers which he himself was to fall into more thoroughly than Lenin at certain moments): “The tasks of the new regime will be so complex that they cannot be solved otherwise than by way of a competition between various methods of economic and political construction, by way of long ‘disputes’, by way of a systematic struggle not only between many trends inside socialism, trends which will inevitably emerge as soon as the proletarian dictatorship poses tens and hundreds of new problems. No strong ‘domineering’ organisation will be able to suppress these tends and controversies…A proletariat capable of exercising its dictatorship over society will not tolerate any dictatorship over itself” (part III).
Trotsky also makes valid criticisms of Lenin’s analogy, made in What Is To be Done, between proletarian revolutionaries and Jacobins, showing the essential differences between the bourgeois and the proletarian revolutions. Moreover, he notes that in polemicising against the Economists who saw class consciousness as the simple reflection or product of the immediate struggle, Lenin made the error of resorting to Kautsky’s “absurd idea” of socialist consciousness originating in the bourgeois intelligentsia. Given that on many of these questions, Lenin admitted to “bending the stick” in his assault on Economism and organisational localism, it is not surprising that some of Trotsky’s polemics do contain real insights, theoretical contributions which can still be used today.
But it would be a real error, as the councilists do, to take these insights out of their overall context. They remain part of an essentially flawed argument which expressed Trotsky’s failure, at that moment, to understand the real stakes in the debate.
With regard to Trotsky’s intuitions about substitutionism in particular, we have to bear in mind, first and foremost, that their point of departure is to confuse Lenin’s principled fight for centralism with a Machiavellian “will to power” on his part, and thus to interpret all his actions and proposals at the Congress as part of a grand manoeuvre to ensure that he ended up as the single dictator over the party and perhaps over the class as a whole.
The second weakness of Trotsky’s critique of substitutionism is that it does not trace its roots in the general pressure of bourgeois ideology, which can affect the proletariat no less than the petty bourgeois intellectuals. Rather it puts forward a workerist, sociological analysis, according to which Iskra’s key failing was that it was constituted mainly by intellectuals and directed the bulk of its political activity towards the intellectuals. And last but not least: although substitutionism was to become a real danger, both in theory and practise, with the isolation and decline of the revolution in Russia, it was not the principal danger on the eve of 1905, when the tide of the class struggle was on the rise. The real danger which had been exposed at the Second Congress, the principal obstacle to the development of the revolutionary movement in Russia, was not that the party would act in the place of the masses; it was that the underestimation of the distinctive role of the party, so intrinsic to both Economism and Menshevism, would prevent the very formation of a party capable of playing its proper role in the forthcoming social and political upheavals. In this sense, Trotsky’s dire warnings about substitutionism were a false alarm. To a certain degree, the situation can be compared to the phase of the class struggle which opened up in 1968: throughout this period, characterised by an ascending curve of the class struggle and by the extreme weakness of the revolutionary minority, by far the greater danger to the class movement is not that the organised revolutionaries will somehow violate the virginity of the class, but that the proletariat will be hurled into massive confrontations with the bourgeois state in a context where the revolutionary organisation is too small and isolated to influence the course of events. This is why the ICC has argued since the mid-80s that the main danger today is not substitutionism but councilism, not the exaggeration of the role and capacities of the party but its underestimation or neglect.
Trotsky’s flirtation with the Mensheviks in 1903 was a serious mistake, and would result in a rupture between him and Lenin that lasted until the eve of the October revolution. But it was to prove temporary nonetheless. By the end of 1904 Trotsky had fallen out with the Mensheviks – mainly over their vision of the impending revolution: he could never stomach their view that the Russian working class would be obliged to subordinate its struggle to the demands of the bourgeois liberals. Trotsky’s fundamentally proletarian responses were to be demonstrated in the key events of 1905, in which he played an absolutely crucial role as chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. But perhaps even more important were the theoretical conclusions he drew from this experience, in particular the theory of permanent revolution, and the elucidation of the historic role of the soviet form of class organisation.
Trotsky rejoined Lenin and the Bolshevik party in 1917 and recognised, as we have seen, that in 1903 Lenin had been right on the organisational question. However, he never returned to the question in any depth, in particular to his mistakes in the two major contributions which we have just examined (Report of the Siberian delegation and Our political tasks).
Despite the importance he accorded to these problems of organisation, he continued to underestimate them throughout his later political life, unlike other opposition currents to Stalinism such as the Italian left. With hindsight, an examination of these disagreements still has much to teach us, not only on the questions themselves, but also on the way in which the polemic between true representatives of marxist thinking can give birth to a clarity that goes beyond the individual contributions of the thinkers themselves. As we will see in the next article, this was equally true of the debate on organisational questions between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg.