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Vol. 74/No. 17      May 3, 2010

‘To whom belongs the decisive word’
Leon Trotsky’s 1932 letter laid out
perspective of building proletarian parties
The following is the 15th in a series of excerpts the Militant is running from Pathfinder Press’s latest book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. We encourage our readers to study, discuss, and help sell the book. The following is a letter written by Leon Trotsky* in 1932. It’s printed in the book along with a short introduction under the heading “To Whom Belongs the Decisive Word.” Copyright © 2009 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

The task of communists emphasized by Leon Trotsky in the last of the three discussions in Mexico in 1939—the building of parties that are proletarian in composition, not just in program and strategy—was central to the revolutionary continuity he was organizing his co-thinkers in the Socialist Workers Party and worldwide to put into practice.

Trotsky had summarized this course much earlier in a June 13, 1932, letter urging the leadership of the world communist movement to actively work to recruit a group of Black workers in Johannesburg, South Africa, who had asked to join.


The Johannesburg comrades may not as yet have had the opportunity to acquaint themselves more closely with the views of the Left Opposition on all the most important questions. But this cannot be an obstacle to our working together with them as closely as possible at this very moment, and helping them in a comradely way to come into the orbit of our program and our tactics.

When ten intellectuals, whether in Paris, Berlin, or New York, who have already been members of various organizations, address themselves to us with a request to be taken into our midst, I would offer the following advice: put them through a series of tests on all the programmatic questions; wet them in the rain, dry them in the sun, and then after a new and careful examination accept maybe one or two.

The case is radically altered when ten workers connected with the masses turn to us. The difference in our attitude to a petty-bourgeois group and to the proletarian group does not require any explanation. But if a proletarian group functions in an area where there are workers of different races and, in spite of this, remains composed solely of workers of a privileged nationality, then I am inclined to view them with suspicion. Are we not dealing perhaps with the labor aristocracy? Isn’t the group infected with slaveholding prejudices, active or passive?

It is an entirely different matter when we are approached by a group of Negro workers. Here I am prepared to take it for granted in advance that we shall achieve agreement with them, even if such an agreement is not yet evident, because the Negro workers, by virtue of their whole position, do not and cannot strive to degrade anybody, oppress anybody, or deprive anybody of his rights. They do not seek privileges and cannot rise to the top except on the road of the international revolution.

We can and we must find a way to the consciousness of the Negro workers, the Chinese workers, the Indian workers, and all the oppressed in the human ocean of the colored races to whom belongs the decisive word in the development of mankind.

* Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) was a central leader of the October 1917 revolution in Russia and of the Bolshevik Party and Communist International in the early years of the Soviet republic. From the mid-1920s, he was the principal leader of the fight to continue the communist course charted under the leadership of V.I. Lenin against its reversal by a counterrevolutionary privileged caste headed by Joseph Stalin. Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929 and later assassinated by Stalin’s agents in Mexico.

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