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Pierre Broué

The History of the Bolshevik Party (CP)

of the U.S.S.R.
Chapter VII. The Crisis of 1921: the Beginnings of the
N.E.P. and the Rise of the Apparatus

The country which had experienced the first victory of the proletarian revolution
and of the construction of the first workers ’ state seemed, three years later, to
be near to decomposition. Entire regions were living in a state of anarchy near to
barbarism, under the threat of bands of brigands. The whole economic structure
seemed to have collapsed. Industry produced 20% in quantity of its prewar
production, and 13% in value. The output of iron represented 1.6% and that of steel
2.4%. The production of oil and of coal, sectors least affected, represented only
41% and 27% of that of pre-war; in other sectors, the percentage varied between
zero and 20%. Capital equipment was wearing out: 60% of locomotives were out of
action and 63% of the railway tracks could not be used. Agricultural production
had fallen in quantity and value alike. The area under cultivation was down by 16%.
In the richest regions, the production of specialist crops for the markets or the
rearing of cattle had disappeared and given way to poor subsistence cultivation.
Trade between towns and the country had fallen to the minimum, to the level of
requisitions or of barter-between individuals.

At the same time, there was a black market, in which the prices were forty to fifty
times higher than the legal prices. The standard of living of the population of the
cities was well below what is strictly necessary to maintain life. In 1920 the trade
unions estimated that the absolutely necessary expenditure represented amounts
of money two and a half or three times higher than wages. The most privileged
workers received between 1,200 and 1,900 calories, instead of the 3,000 which
specialists regarded as necessary. For that reason the cities, starving, were
emptied. In autumn 1920 the population of forty provincial capitals had fallen by
33% from the 1917 level, from 6,400,000 to 4,300,000. In three years Petrograd
lost 57.5% and Moscow lost 44.5% of their population. By comparison with prewar,
one lost half and the other a third of their inhabitants.

Four years after the revolution, then, Russia presented this paradox, a workers ’
state, founded in a proletarian revolution, in which, to borrow the expression of
Bukharin, a veritable “disintegration of the proletariat” was taking place. In 1919
there had been three million workers in industry; in 1920 there were only
1,500,000 and in 1921 1,125,000. In addition, the majority of them were not really
working. “Normal” absenteeism in the factories was 50%. The workers drew
wages which were nearly unemployment pay. The trade unions estimated that
half of what was manufactured in certain work-places was immediately sold by
the people who made it. The same was true, which was more serious, in the case
of tools, coal, nails and plant.

The workers had fallen in numbers, but perhaps had changed still more deeply in
depth. Its vanguard, the militants of the underground period, the fighters in the
revolution, the organisers of the Soviets, the generation of experienced cadres
like that of the enthusiastic youth, had left the factories en masse at the beginning
of the civil war. The revolutionary workers were at posts of command in the Red
Army, in the state apparatus and on every front across the vast country. The most
active of those who remained formed the cadres of the trade unions. The most
capable sought amid the general poverty that individual solution which would
enable them and their families to survive. The workers of the towns went back to
the country, with which their links had always remained alive, in hundreds of
thousands. No vanguard remained, nor even a proletariat in the Marxist sense of
the term, only a mass of declassed workers, a wretched, half-idle sub-proletariat.
The regression was so deep and the decline into barbarism so real that the year
1921 was to see the re-appearance of the famine which, according to the official
statistics, would affect 36 million peasants. Cases even of cannibalism were

The crisis of 1921: Cronstadt

The explosion took place at the beginning of 1921. To tell the truth, the crisis had
been brewing since the end of the civil war. The peasants had chosen, between
the two evils of the White Army and the Red Army, the lesser evil when they
supported the second. But the requisitions became all the more intolerable when,
after the defeat of the Whites, they no longer had to fear a restoration which
would take back the land from them. So the peasant discontent rose without a
break from September 1920 onwards. There were uprisings in Siberia during the
winter and the food supply of the cities was threatened. It was the support of the
peasants to which Makhno owed his ability to hold out with his men under arms.
The crisis spread from the country into the cities. For long weeks in Petrograd a
workers ’ wages amounted to half a pound of bread a day. In February strikes and
demonstrations multiplied.

This is the agitation which formed the background for the Cronstadt insurrection.
The discussion on the trade unions and the campaign by Zinoviev for “workers ’
democracy” fed fuel to the flames. The Party Committee in Petrograd tried to
take advantage of the discontent of the sailors with the centralisation imposed by
the political commissars, by demanding the political leadership of the fleet.
Zinoviev served to protect those who denounced “the dictatorship of the
commissars”. All these elements of agitation were germinating in a fertile soil at

In 1917 the naval base had been the fortress of the revolutionary sailors. It was no
longer. Here too the vanguard had been drawn off by the new tasks. The leaders
of 1917 were no longer there. The Bolshevik, Rochal, had had his throat cut by the
Whites in Rumania. The anarchist Iartchuk was in prison. Markin had been killed
on the Volga. Raskolnikov, Dingelstedt and Pankratov were dispersed all over the
country; they and the people like them were military commissars or chiefs, or
commandants of Tchekas. Among the sailors, who were this deprived of their
political leadership, there were numerous new recruits. Yet they retained a
tradition, a prestige and a strength. No doubt oppositional political currents were
at work among them. The influence of the Mensheviks could be felt in the
Petrograd factories, but not in the fleet. On the other hand, anarchists and social-
revolutionaries without doubt increased their audience, which had never
completely disappeared, and which was to reveal itself in the slogans of the
insurrection. Yet it is impossible to attribute to a considered initiative by any
particular group the first demonstrations of political opposition by the sailors.
These arose directly from the workers ’ agitation in February.

One after another the Petrograd factories went on strike on February 24, 25 and
26. Meetings of strikers demanded the end of requisitions, the improvement of
the food supply and the abolition of the labour armies. The last-named had been
one of the slogans of the Mensheviks speakers frequently demanded that the
powers of the Tcheka. On the 24th, the Soviet set up a defence committee
consisting of three members under the leadership of Lashevich. It proclaimed a
state of siege and gave full powers in each factory to other committees of three,
the troiki , and appealed to officer-cadets for the maintenance of order in the
streets. Delegates from the Cronstadt sailors took part in all the meetings in the
principal factories and were to give an account of them to their comrades in the
citadel. It is probably one such meeting which was held on board the
Petropavlovsk , on February 28, in the presence of the commissars of the fleet. It
adopted a fifteen-point resolution, calling for the re-election of the Soviets by
secret ballot after a free election campaign, for the freedom of the press and of
meeting for the anarchists and the Socialist parties and for the workers ’ and
peasants ’ unions, for a meeting on March 10 at the latest of a non-party
conference of the workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Cronstadt and the
region, for the liberation of all the political prisoners of the socialist parties and of
persons arrested for having taken part in workers ’ or peasants ’ movements, for
the election of a commission to review the cases of all the detainees, for the
abolition of the political education and agitation sections, for the equalisation of
food rations for all workers, for the abolition of the detachments charged with
seeking out and requisitioning stocks of grain, as well as of all the Communist
units, the right of peasants to dispose of their land and of their animals, and for
artisans to be free to produce what they please when they do not employ wage-
labour (1). At this date there is nothing to permit this programme to be regarded
as that of an insurrection. The Petrograd defence committee, anyway, did not see
it in that light. It sent two orators to Cronstadt, the president of the executive,
Kalinin, who had already been able to calm several strikes in Petrograd, and
Kuzmin, the commissar of the fleet.

On March 1, these two leaders spoke, in the Anchor Square, to some 6,000 sailors,
soldiers and peasants. The meeting was held under the presidency of the
Communist, Vasiliev, the head of the Cronstadt Soviet. They were frequently
interrupted and did not succeed in convincing the assembly. By a very large
majority, it adopted the Petropavlovsk resolution, and then unanimously decided
to call a conference of delegates to arrange new elections to the Soviet (2).

It was at this conference, the next day, that the first serious incidents broke out.
When Kuzmin stated that the Communist Party would not let itself be driven out
of power at the moment of danger, he was accused of having threatened the
Cronstadt men. The conference decided by acclamation to arrest him and Vasiliev.
The rumour spread that the Communists from the party school were marching on
the meeting hall. The conference closed in confusion, after having appointed a
committee of five, which was soon enlarged by the cooption of ten newcomers
and was to become the provisional revolutionary committee, with the sailor
Patrichenko as its president. From that moment the revolution began against
those whom the Cronstadt men called “the Communist usurpers” and the
“commissarocracy”. It seems have drawn in behind it the majority of the
Communists in Cronstadt(3).

The situation was extremely serious for the Bolshevik government. None of the
leaders seems to have really believed that White Guards had any influence in the
beginning of the affair, its propaganda immediately described the movement as
having been inspired by White Guard officers and led by one of them, General
Kozlovsky. This former officer in the army of the Tsar, who was serving in the Red
Army, was head of the artillery in Cronstadt. He was a member of the city ’s
defence committee after March 4, but does not appear to have in any way been
an initiator of the movement. None the less, the experience of the civil war
showed that spontaneous popular uprisings against the Soviet regime always
ended up, despite the democratic character of their initial demands, by falling into
the hands of monarchists and reactionaries. On March 3, the Cronstadt delegates
tried to get a foothold in Oranienbaum and to win to their cause the 5th air
squadron. If they had succeeded, Petrograd would have fallen in a few hours (4).
Serge Zorin, the party secretary in Petrograd, revealed the preparations of the
commander of a regiment, who was ready to go over to the Cronstadters and
who was to declare, before he was shot: “I have been waiting for this moment for
years. I hate you all, you assassins of Russia” (5). Despite the cells of the
insurgents for a “third revolution”, which obviously would bring them into
opposition to the supporters of the Constituant Assembly, the White Guard
emigres multiplied their advances and offers of help, which moreover were
rejected. Petrichenko refused to receive Tchernov until the situation was clarified
(6). Miliukov, the Cadet leader, writes that the insurgents found the right road to
bringing down the regime when—though this is untrue—they issued the slogan
“Soviets without Communists”.

Lenin stressed: “They do not want the White Guards, but they do not want our
regime either” (7). It appears that he particularly feared that the sailors would play
the role of a Trojan Morse. Cronstadt is a vital strategic position and it carried
important heavy artillery. The island was blocked by ice, but if the insurrection
were prolonged until after the thaw, the island could become the bridge-head for
a foreign invasion at the gates of Petrograd. The first military initiatives were
taken by the insurgents on March 2 and 3. The government seems to have
thought at first of negotiating, but made up its mind to use force after several
days of propaganda warfare by leaflets and by radio.

There was nothing encouraging in the news from the rest of the country. Victor
Serge says that over fifty centres of peasant insurrection could be counted. The
socialist-revolutionary Antonov had collected a peasant army of 50,000 in the
Tambov region, and months would be needed to defeat them. Makhno still held
out in the Ukraine. All these movements could spread with lightning speed if
Cronstadt were to hold out for any length of time. Here and there, as at Saratov,
peasants were attacking towns in order to slaughter the Communists there. The
Bolsheviks could see White Terror on the horizon and the enemy could take
advantage of the popular discontent to get a fresh foothold in Russia. They
therefore decided to cut it to the quick. At the Tenth Congress, Lenin stated:
“Here we have a democratic petty bourgeois movement, demanding free trade
and protesting against the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the non-party
elements are serving as a stepping-stone, a support and a gangway for the White
Guards” (8). As Radek writes, it was on “the monarchist counter-revolutionary
conspiracy of the artillery commander, Kozlovsky, un-observed by the sailors”
that the proclamations of the Bolsheviks laid the emphasis” (9). On March 5, in his
capacity as chief of the Red Army, Trotsky summoned the mutineers to surrender
unconditionally. They refused. Tukhachevsky prepared to attack with elite troops,
consisting of Tchekists and cadet-officers of the Red Army. The operations were
carried out quickly, because time was short before the thaw, which would isolate
the fortress from the mainland. The fighting was to be costly in human lives. The
attackers went into battle under the fire of the guns of Cronstadt. It began on
March 7 and was over by the 17th. A certain number of the leaders of the
insurrection escaped, including Petrichenko, who was to take refuge abroad, but
the repression was severe. Cronstadters were shot in the streets and, according
to Serge, others were to be shot in the coming months, hundreds of them, “in
small groups” (10).

The insurrection was liquidated. The Thermidor which Lenin feared had taken
place, but the Bolsheviks had defeated the Thermidoreans. None the less, very
deep traces remained. The programme of the insurgents bore many reminders of
the programme of the revolution of 1917, of which Cronstadt had been the spear-
head. The demands which accompanied corresponded to the aspirations of many
workers and peasants who were tired of sacrifices, weary, tired out and starving.
“We have gone too far”, Lenin was to say. None the less, the party had supported
the leadership; the delegates to the Tenth Congress, including the Workers ’
Opposition, played their part in the attack and the repression. Lutovinov,
Shliapnikov ’s right-hand man, who was in Berlin, categorically condemned the
insurrection and approved the attack by the Red Army. None the less, it is clear
that new relations were formed between the party and the working people: ‘Must
we give way to the working people, who are at the end of their physical strength
and patience, and are less enlightened than we are about their own general
interests?”, Radek asked himself some days earlier, in an address to the students
of the military academy of the Red Army. He drew the conclusion: “The Party
takes the view that it cannot give way, that it must impose its will to conquer on
the exhausted working people, who are prepared to give way” (11). For the first
time, in the name of its “higher consciousness”, the party which until then had
known how to convince the working people, had fought arms in hand against
those who had expressed themselves in which it regarded as a reactionary sense.
The lyrical agreement of 1917 belonged to the past.

With the insurrection and the repression at Cronstadt there also ended the dream
of Muhsam and others, the unification of revolutionary Marxists with libertarians.
After the mediation of the American anarchists, Emma Goldmann and Alexander
Berkman failed, Cronstadt was to be the symbol of the henceforth irreconcilable
hostility between these two currents in the workers ’ movement.

The N.E.P.

It was no doubt not by chance that the Cronstadt revolt coincided with the
adoption by the Tenth Congress of the Party of a radical turn in economic policy,
known as the New Economic Policy and familiarly called “Nep”. Contrary to
superficial but frequently repeated statements, it was not Cronstadt which led to
the adoption of Nep, but the same difficulties lie at the origin of the troubles and
the turn. The roots of the events of March 1921 lie in the consequences both of
the civil war and of its end. Moreover, we may believe that the turn to Nep. was
taken too late, and that the Cronstadt insurrection was the price for this useless
delay: most of the economic demands of the mutineers were included in the draft
prepared by the Communist Central Committee during the first months of 1921 as
measures inevitable in the new situation.

The Nep. is characterised by the abolition of measures of requisitioning, which are

replaced by a progressive tax, by the re-establishment of free trading and the
reappearance of a market, by the return to a monetary economy, toleration of
medium and small private industry and an appeal, under State control, for foreign
investment. It is an attempt to break out of the vicious circle of war Communism
and in a certain sense brings it to an end, because it starts from the necessity to
encourage the peasant to supply the products of his labour, in order to open up
the policy of industrial productivity necessary to support the market, in place of
the necessity to drag out of the country what is needed to feed the towns.
Historians have delighted in stressing the two contradictory lines in the
explanations given by the leading Communists who presented the Nep.
sometimes as a temporary retreat and sometimes as a return to the economic
policy which had been sketched out in 1917 and which had undergone a detour
imposed by the war. The fact is that it had the double aim of encouraging the
peasant masses and of developing, with industry, the economic and social bases
of the new regime. It was imposed by the repulse of the European revolution, as
Lenin explained at the Tenth Congress: “A socialist revolution, in a country like
ours, can finally be victorious, but on two conditions, first, that it be supported at
the right moment by a socialist revolutions in one or several advanced countries
… We have done much to bring this condition about … But we are still far from its
realisation. The other … is a compromise between the proletariat which exercises
its dictatorship or holds state power in its hands and the majority of the peasant
population” (12).

In fact it was the isolation of the Russian Revolution which led the Bolshevik
lenders to advance the Nep., not the adoption of the Nep. which diverted them
from the aim of the European Revolution. For March 1921 is not only the month of
Cronstadt and the Tenth Congress; it is also the month when the insurrectional
strike was repulsed in Germany. This was hastily prepared, badly organised,
imposed on the Central Committee of the German party by the Hungarian Bela
Kun, the emissary of Zinoviev, utilised perhaps in the hope that a revolutionary
success would reduce the necessity for the Nep. turn, but its defeat
demonstrated that the tactic of the offensive, of short-term revolutionary
perspectives, must be abandoned. Lenin and Trotsky were at first nearly alone,
facing a hostile majority, hut succeeded finally in convincing the delegates to the
Third Congress of the International. Trotsky ’s speech concluded: “History has
given the bourgeoisie a breathing-space … The victory of the proletariat
immediately after the war was a historic possibility which has not been realised …
We must take advantage of this period of relative stabilisation to extend our
influence over the working class and to win its majority before decisive events
arise” (13). Before the Communist parties take power, they must “win the
masses”. This is the task to which the Communist International summons them
from 1921 onwards.

The monopoly of the Party

The turn of Nep., liberalisation in the economic sphere, was an important stage on
the road of the political monopoly of the Bolshevik Party. The dictatorship had
been justified, for better or for worse, by the necessities of the military struggle.
Now it maintained and strengthened itself in the name of other dangers. The end
of war Communism and the relaxation of constraints in fact restored their
strength to social forces which until then had been held in check or even
suppressed; the richer peasants, the kulaks, the new bourgeoisie, the nepmen ,
enriched by the recovery of trade and industry, the bourgeois specialists and
technicians employed in industry.

The Bolshevik leaders were haunted by the fear that they would see these forces
coalesce against the regime. The party was weary. Zinoviev declared without
equivocation: “Many militants are tired to death; we are demanding an extreme
moral tension from them; their families are living in painful conditions and the
party or chance transfer them here and there. Inevitably a physical deterioration
results” (14). The Smolensk archives reveal that at this date 17% of the party were
tuberculous (15). Tens of thousands of the best militants were dead. The end of
the war encouraged an influx of careerists and place-seekers, all those for whom a
party card represented social insurance. In 1917 the strength of the party came
from its old guard. In 1921 this old guard was decimated and used up, as were its
connections with an ardent, Combative, generous and enthusiastic working class.
A real revolutionary proletariat no longer existed. The proletarians who remained
were turning away from the party and its historic perspectives, to cling to the
search for a problematic individual solution. How could the Bolsheviks accept free
confrontation of ideas and free competition in the elections to the Soviets, when
they knew that nine-tenths of the population were hostile to them, when they
believed that their overthrow would lead to bloody chaos, to an even deeper
descent into barbarism and to the return of the reactionary regime of the

Never since June 1917 had the Mensheviks had so much influence in the factories
and the unions. For the first time they represented a real force among the
workers, as well as the anarchists. The promises of legalisation were therefore not
kept. In fact the organisations which competed with the Party were prohibited, if
not in law. The journal of the Left Social-Revolutionaries disappears in May 1921.
Sternberg managed to flee into exile, but Kamkov and Karelin disappeared in the
jails, like Spiridonova in October 1920. There were still many anarchists at liberty in
February 1921 to attend the funeral of Kropotkin, but after Cronstadt they were
arrested an masse. Makhno managed to get away to Rumania and Volin, after a
hunger strike, was allowed to go abroad. Despite Kamenev ’s promises, the aged
Aaron Baron remained in prison, while his wife was shot in Odessa. In autumn
1920 Martov received a passport for Germany and was to stay there.

Dan was arrested after Cronstadt as was to be allowed to emigrate later. From
February 1921 the Menshevik journal Sotsialistitchesky Vestnik (Socialist
Messenger) appears in Germany, but for several years was to be distributed
nearly freely in Russia.

Many of the former opponents of the Bolsheviks turned towards them and
sometimes met with a warm reception. Semenov, later known as Blumkin, joined
the secret service, where there was a place for this former terrorist. The
Mensheviks, such as the old “Economist” Martynov, Maisky, Vyshinsky,
Troyanovsky, all came over. The fact that the party had a monopoly of political
power meant that it became the sole organism within which divergent class
pressures and political disagreements could express themselves.

The Tenth Congress

These new conditions weighed on the party which had to face up to two kinds of
contradictory imperatives. On the one hand, it could not admit, without losing its
character as a Communist Party, to becoming the closed battle-ground of
opposed social forces, as its position as the sole party implied. But, as the Party in
power, it could not continue to govern the country without internal democracy,
like a military unit, without turning its back on its own aims. It felt obliged to filter
new recruitments carefully, but at the same time it had to take care not to isolate
itself or to fall back into a kind of free-masonry of old comrades, cut off from the
new generations which for some years had been growing up under the new
regime. It was because the party found itself grappling with these contradictory
necessities that it adopted solutions which only later were to reveal themselves as
contradictory and even mutually exclusive, while nearly all the leaders and the
militants regarded them as complementary. This explains that the Tenth
Congress, which its contemporaries regarded above all as the Congress of
workers ’ democracy recovered, became in the years that followed the Congress
which declared and prepared for monolithism by prohibiting fractions.

It is improbable that the influence of Zinoviev at the Tenth Congress was due to
the efforts he had made previously in his campaign for the restoration of workers
’ democracy. On the contrary, he generally enjoyed the solid reputation of being
hard-fisted, never embarrassed, precisely, by democratic scruples. Several authors
tell that one of the ways to raise a laugh in a working-class audience at the time
was to read out a choice of good quotations about democracy from Zinoviev. But
it is significant that such a man should choose this war-horse. The incidents
concerning Tsektran, the development of the trade union discussion, had amply
demonstrated that there were numerous militants and party leaders who
believed, with Preobrazhensky, that “the extension of the possibilities of criticism
is precisely one of the conquests of the revolution” (16). This was the perspective
within which Trotsky likewise had demanded that a “free debate” be opened
within the party on the trade union question.

The Tenth Congress opened on March 8. The guns at Cronstadt were roaring.
More than two hundred of the delegates were to leave the hall, to go to take part
in the assault. It was in no way surprising that, in these conditions, the second day
was marked by a very serious warning from Lenin. Speaking of the Workers ’
Opposition”, he said: “A slightly syndicalist or semi-anarchist deviation would not
have been very serious, because the party would have recognised it in time and
would have set about dealing with it. But when this deviation takes place within
the framework of a crushing preponderance of the peasantry in the country,
when the discontent of the peasantry against the proletarian dictatorship is
growing, when the crisis of peasant agriculture is nearing its limit, when the
demobilisation of the peasant army is throwing out hundreds and thousands of
broken men, who cannot find work, who know no other trade but war and are
recruits for banditry, we no longer have the time for discussion on theoretical
deviations. We must say frankly to the Congress: we will permit no more
discussions on deviations: they must be stopped … The atmosphere of
controversy is becoming a real danger to the dictatorship of the proletariat” (17).
Lenin more than anyone else seems to have understood the perilous character of
the situation. As he sought to justify the condemnation of the Workers ’
Opposition, he used arguments which reveal an extremely pessimistic
appreciation: “If we perish, it is of the greatest importance to preserve our
ideological line and to give a lesson to our successors. We must never forget this,
even in desperate circumstances” (18).
However, the danger also comes, beyond all question, from the military regime in
the party. Bukharin presents the report on workers ’ democracy, on behalf of the
Central Committee (19). He began by recalling that one of the contradictions of
war Communism, thanks to the introduction into organisation of “militarisation”
and “extreme centralism”, which were absolutely necessary, had been to end up
by “creating a highly centralised apparatus on the basis of an extremely backward
cultural level of the masses”. Such a regime was no longer desirable or
practicable. He declared, “We must devote our energies in the direction of
workers ’ democracy and achieving it with the same force as we used in the
previous period to militarise the party. By workers ’ democracy within the party,
we must understand a form of organisation which ensures to every member an
active participation in the life of the party and in the discussion of all the questions
which are posed there and of their solution, as well as active participation in
building the party”. On the thorny question of nominations, he stated
categorically: “Workers ’ democracy excludes the system of nominations, and is
characterised by the eligibility of every organism from top to bottom, by their
responsibility and the control which is imposed upon them”. The methods of
work in workers ’ democracy must consist of “wide discussions on all the
important questions, absolute freedom of criticism within the party and the
collective elaboration of the decisions of the party.”

The solution which Bukharin proposed recalls the definition of democratic

centralism in the constitution of 1919: “The decisions of the leading organisms
must be applied quickly and exactly. At the same time, discussion in the party of
all the debated questions in the life of the party is completely free until a decision
has been reached”. His solution explains the spirit of democratic centralism,
within the framework of workers ’ democracy as the search for “a constant watch
by the public opinion of the party on the work of its leading organisms, and a
constant interaction between these and the party as a whole in practice, at the
same time as deepening the strict responsibility of the appropriate committees of
the party with respect, not only to higher organisms, but also to lower
organisms”. The document which Bukharin presented in this way won the
unanimous support of the delegates to the Congress, because it was in
fundamental harmony with a general aspiration, which was expressed as well by
Bukharin and his friends as by Zinoviev and his supporters and by Shliapnikov and
the other oppositionists.

It was the principal resolution, and it bore the mark of its relevance to the
immediate circumstances. It was in the name of workers ’ democracy that access
to the party had to be denied to careerists, intriguers and class enemies: one year
’s probationary membership, without the right to vote, was henceforth imposed
on candidates-not of working-class origin. The document took up again something
which the Eighth Congress had hoped: it proposed that a decision be
systematically enforced so that “workers who have been engaged for a long
period in the service of the Soviets or of the party must be employed in industry
or in agriculture, in the same conditions of life as other workers”. This showed
that the Bolshevik leaders were aware of the danger of degeneration implied by
keeping people permanently in administrative jobs and by the differentiation of
functions between workers and those who govern over workers (20). In this way
the party was showing its determination to remain a workers ’ party, leading party
as it might be.

None the less, it was important, in the eyes of the leading Bolsheviks, to set the
bounds of this democracy which they were unanimous in demanding, in view of
the pressing dangers. On March 11 Bukharin announced his intention of moving a
resolution on “party unity”; this was clearly directed against the supporters of the
Workers ’ Opposition. In the end, Lenin undertook the introduction of two
motions on the last day of the Congress, March 16; one condemned the
programme of the Workers ’ Opposition as an anarcho-syndicalist deviation,
stating that its views on the role of the trade unions in the management of
industry were “incompatible with membership of the party”. The other drew
attention to what it called “signs of fractionism” and “the appearance of groups
with their own programme and a tendency to turn in upon themselves to a certain
extent and to create their own group discipline”. Such a situation weakened the
party and encouraged its enemies: the motion reminded that militants that
“anyone who expresses a criticism” should “take into account of how they do so
and of the situation of the party surrounded with enemies” (21). There too the
group of Shliapnikov and Kollontai was all the more clearly the target, in that the
resolution laid down, under pain of exclusion, that groups formed around specific
platforms must be dissolved immediately. Article 4 laid down that all the
discussions on the policy of the party, discussions which it was forbidden to carry
on in “fractions”, had their place, in return, in the meetings of the regular
organisms of the party. It laid down: “For this purpose, the Congress decides to
publish a periodic discussion bulletin and special periodicals”. Article 7 foresaw
that, for the application of this resolution, the Central Committee was to receive
the power to exclude people from the party, including its own members, provided
that the decision was taken by a two- thirds majority: it was not to be published.

This resolution was to be the keystone of the subsequent transformation of the

party and of the disappearance of the workers ’ democracy, to which it proposed
only to determine a framework. Only twenty-five delegates voted against it. Some
expressed their reservations, including Radek in particular, who was uneasy about
giving the power to the Central Committee to expel, though he voted for it none
the less, in view of the threats to the regime: “In voting for this resolution, I
believe that it can well be used against us, yet I support it … At the moment of
danger, let the Central Committee take the most severe measures against the
best comrades. Even if it is mistaken! This is less dangerous than the wavering
which we can observe today” (22). Moreover Lenins attitude seemed re-assuring.
It was known that he was proposing an emergency measure, justified by the
gravity of the situation. It was known that he thought “that the most vigorous
fractional activity is justified … if the disagreements are really deep and if the
correction of the false policy of the party or of the working class cannot be
obtained any other way” (23). When Riazanov proposed the adoption of an
amendment which would prohibit in the future the election of the Central
Committee on the basis of lists of candidates supporting different platforms,
Lenin vigorously opposed him: “We cannot deprive the party and the members of
the Central Committee of the right to turn towards the party if an essential
question raises disagreements … We do not have the power to suppress that”

The Congress had already appointed the Central Committee before it voted on
these two resolutions, precisely on the basis of the platforms which had been
submitted to the vote of the delegates at the time of the debate on the trade
union question. The initiative for this procedure had came from Petrograd on
January 3, evidently inspired by Zinoviev, who had seen in it a convenient way of
eliminating certain of his opponents and, in particular, the three secretaries who
had voted for the Trotsky-Bukharin platform. Trotsky had protested against what
he regarded as an infraction of the “free discussion” which had been opened and
obliged all the candidates and participants to identify themselves with and
actually form groups on a particular point. But at the Central Committee of
January 12, he was defeated by 8 votes against 7. For this reason the composition
of the Central Committee reflected important changes. It included only four
supporters of the theses of Trotsky and Bukharin; Krestinsky, Preobrazhensky and
Serebriakov, the three secretaries, were not re-elected. In that way, it seems, they
paid for the liberalism which they had showed towards the Workers ’ Opposition
which now stood condemned, and for their firmness in the face of the demagogic
attacks of Zinoviev. Andreyev and Ivan N. Smirnov, who had signed the Trotsky-
Bukharin platform, also disappeared. All were old militants, pillars of the Central
Committee during the Civil War, and well known for their independence of mind.
Those who replaced them were also Old Bolsheviks; the fact that nearly all of
them had come into conflict with Trotsky in the pest and that they were linked
with Stalin had hardly any significance at this period: Molotov, Yaroslavsky,
Ordzhonikidze, Frunze, Voroshilov became full members, and Kirov and Kuibyshev
became candidate members. Zinoviev replaced Bukharin in the Politburo.
Bukharin became the third candidate member. Molotov was elected “chief
secretary” to the Central Committee, and was to be assisted in his new-task by
Yaroslavsky and Mikhailov. Despite their protests and at the insistence of Lenin,
Shlyapnikov and Kutuzov, supporters of the Workers ’ Opposition, were elected.

The Rise of the Apparatus after the Tenth Congress

The days which immediately followed the Tenth Congress, in the period of crisis
marked by the laborious beginnings of the NEP, did not see the resolution on
workers ’ democracy expressed in deeds. The new secretariat had a firmer fist
than the former one. The Tsektran—what a paradox—was re-established with its
privileges. The secretariat created a special section for “the direction and control
of transport”. A conference of the party fraction in the congress of the trade
unions voted, on May 17, for a resolution which laid down that the party “must
make a special effort to apply the normal methods of proletarian democracy,
especially in the trade unions, where the choice of leaders must be left to the
masses of trade unionists themselves” (25). Riazanov was responsible for this
proposal and found himself excluded from every trade union position. Tomsky,
who had not opposed the proposal, was relieved of his functions on the central
committee of the trade unions, at the recommendation of a special commission
headed by Stalin. The majority of the study circles which were founded in the
course of the year were wound up nearly at once on various pretexts. There were
strong reactions, even in the leading bodies of the party. In “Pravda ” Sosnovsky
vigorously criticised the way in which the apparatus was doing its best to
suppress differences: “When the best elements in an organisation find that
racketeers are not disturbed, while those who have fought them get transferred
from Vologda to Kersch or vice versa, that is when, among the best comrades,
these feelings of despair and apathy, or of anger, begin to spread, which are the
material basis for all the possible “ideological” opposition groupings … At the
centre they begin to be interested in the question only when a grouping
appears”. He declared that the Communist militant is one who brings to his task
“creative fertility of mind” and “who knows, by his example, to set the masses
afire”. He served that today this kind of militant is not well regarded by the party
cadres, because “he is insufficiently respectful of bureaucratic paper-work”. He
voiced accusation that “in mechanically and superficially undertaking to “liquidate
intrigues”, we have stifled the true Communist spirit and have educated only the
“party card holders” (26).

The reaction of this Old Bolshevik, in the central organ of the party, shows how
vigorously the democratic tradition remained. The worker, Miasnikov, a Bolshevik
since 1906, publicly demanded the freedom of the press for all, including
monarchists. Lenin tried to convince him in private correspondence. Miasnikov
was excluded only after repeated acts of indiscipline, and even then on the
promise that he would be taken back at the end of a year if he observed party
discipline. In August Shliapnikov had criticised a decree of the presidium of
national economy, in inadmissible terms in a cell meeting, but the Central
Committee refused to give Lenin the two-thirds majority of the votes necessary to
the exclusion which he demanded, an the basis of article 7.

The Workers ’ Opposition had appealed from the decisions of the party to the
International in a letter known as “the declaration of the 22”, and were charged
with grave indiscipline. A commission made up of Dzerzhinsky, Stalin and Zinoviev
was to demand at the Eleventh Congress the exclusion of Shliapnikov, Medvediev
and Kollontai, but the Congress refused.

None the less, these resistances themselves indicate the growing pressure on the
militants, a growing centralisation in the party, the apparatus of which was
establishing itself and growing, despite the resolutions of the Tenth Congress, in
weight and authority. If the Central Committee refused to use the tremendous
privilege which enabled to get rid of a minority in its ranks, that perhaps, among
other reasons, is because its members felt that little by little the exclusive
authority which they ought to enjoy in principle was gradually diminishing. The
Central Committee met no more frequently than every two months. Its powers
were being more and more taken over from it by the Politburo, which was
increased to seven in 1921.

The influence of those who controlled the party apparatus was growing within
this body. The party apparatus continued to increase numerically and the
multiplication of fulltimers was justified by the need to mobilise the members, to
control the organisations and to stimulate agitation and propaganda. In the
month of August 1922, there was a count of 15,325 full-time officials of the party,
5,000 of whom were employed at the level of districts or factories. The secretariat
of the Central Committee that year completed the index of the members which
thenceforth it controlled and mobilised. Under the supervision of the Central
Committee secretariat there function a bureau for appointments, entitled
Utchaspred , which had been set up in 1920 to ensure during the civil war the
transfers of Communists in sensitive sectors and their mobilisation. The
necessities of rapid action led it very quickly, as we have seen, to intervene in the
nominations of party officials, and to replace an official which it had decided to
transfer. The intervention of the Organisation Bureau might be necessary for the
highest posts, but Utchraspred made the nominations to lower-rank posts under
the influence of “recommendations” by the secretariat of the Central Committee,
the authority of which extended through the whole country: in 1922—1923 it was
to effect more than ten thousand nominations and transfers of this kind. These
included forty-two posts of secretaries of provincial committees as well as
appointments to important posts in the administrative or economic
administration, over the heads of the electors or of the heads of the
commissariats concerned. When Krestinsky and Preobrazhensky were the
secretaries, regional bureaux of the party were created, which acted as links
between the party secretariat and the local organisations, and their authority
constantly grew.

In 1922 there was set up the section of organisation and instruction, which was
attached to the secretariat. This was to become one of its most effective
instruments. It had a corps of “leading instructors”, who acted as real inspectors-
general, visited local organisation, made reports, controlled the general activity
and selected cadres. The section could equally delegate important powers to
officials who were known as the “plenipotentiaries of the Central Committee”,
and who, in its name, exercised a right to veto any decision by a party body: this
was obviously an effective way to bring to heel an excessively stubborn provincial
or local committee.

To be sure, successive oppositions had demanded the formation of control

commissions, precisely in order to fight against the abuse of authority by the
heads of the apparatus. The Workers ’ Opposition saw in them a guarantee
against the bureaucracy. A complicated system provided for the election of the
provincial committees by the local organisations and for the elections to the
Central Control Commission by the provincial congresses. But in reality the
elected members lacked authority in relation to the representative of the
permanent apparatus. The task of purging evidently enforced on them a close
collaboration with the staff of the secretariat which centralised information, and
finally the Central Control Commission subordinated the others to itself.

Immediately after the Tenth Congress the “purge” was particularly severe:
136,836 members were excluded from the party, 11 % for “indiscipline”, 34% for
“inactivity”, 25% for “minor crimes”, such as drunkenness or careerism, and g, for
serious faults such as swindling, corruption or lying. Many dubious elements were
eliminated in this way, but it is likely, as Shliapnikov and his friends were to claim,
that the oppositionists also were hit or threatened, by an interpretation of the
resolution condemning the Workers ’ Opposition which was often too broad. In
the course of 1922, it is clear that the party apparatus was moving towards high-
handed treatment of the organisation as a whole and, through it, over the life of
the entire country, and was substituting itself, in brief, for the party, in the same
way ns the party had substituted itself for the Soviets. That is clear from the
development of the Control Commissions which became an appendage of the
bureaucracy which it was their task to combat. This is even more true in the case
of the Workers ’ and Peasants ’ Inspection (Rabkrin), of which Lenin seemed to
have had great hopes. These commissions of inspections were originally intended
to ensure workers ’ control over the functioning of the State apparatus. Under
the authority of the commissar for the Workers ’ and Peasants ’ Inspection, Stalin,
they became annexes of the Control Commission, which itself was in close
contact, not only with the secretariat, but with the former Tcheka, re-baptised the

In this way there took place a real transfer of authority in the party at all levels,
from the Congresses or Conferences to the committees, whether elected or not,
and from the committees to their full-time secretaries. The persistence and the
spread of the practice of nominations, contrary to the resolutions of the Tenth
Congress, made the secretaries responsible, not to the party base, but to the
apparatus and the secretariat. A real hierarchy of secretaries came into existence;
it was independent and it showed a very well-developed mutual solidarity.
Sosnovsky describes in the following way those who were beginning to be called
the apparatchiki , the people of the apparatus: “They are neither hot nor cold.
They take note of every committee circular … they make all their arithmetical
calculations to meet the activity that has been called for, they tailor the whole
activity of the party to fit the mathematical framework of their carefully drafted
reports; they are satisfied when every point has been covered and when they can
satisfy the centre that its instructions have been scrupulously fulfilled. Around
party workers of this type, there falls a rain of every kind of plan, programme,
instructions, theses, enquiries and reports. They are happy when calm reigns in
their organisations, when there are no ‘intrigues ’, when no one fights them” (27).
Above the ordinary party members, simple working people, there were already in
the party the functionaries of the Soviets, the army and the trade unions. Now
there was a higher layer, because the apparatchiki are those who have access to
all the responsible posts, those in the offices and in the pyramid of the
However, at the Eleventh Congress, at which Lenin was not present, except at the
opening debate, the party resisted. Zinoviev ’s speech was full of prudent
allusions to “cliques” and to “groups”, which revealed a very wide-spread
oppositional state of mind. A proposal to do away with the local Control
Commissions was loudly applauded and obtained 89 votes against 223. A
resolution, which was to be carried, placed its finger on the root of the trouble by
declaring: “The party organisations are beginning to be systematically buried
under an enormous apparatus … which, developing gradually, has begun to make
bureaucratic incursions and to absorb an excessive part of the resources of the
party” (28). But this enormous apparatus seemed still to be anonymous. It had no
recognisable face. The same Congress approved the statement by the chairman of
the Congress: “Now we need discipline more than ever; it is necessary because
the enemy is not as visible as before. Now there is a respite, there appears among
us the wish to be freed from the yoke of the party. We are beginning to think that
such a moment has arrived, but it has not arrived” (29).

For that orator, that moment never was to arrive. In fact he was part of a group of
apparatchiki whose influence did not cease to grow and nearly all of whom
occupied decisive posts already in 1922. Their names were still little known. There
was the constellation of secretaries of the Regional bureaux, Yaroslavsky,
regional secretary in Siberia in 1921, party secretary in 1922, who went on to the
Central Control Commission. There was Lazar Kaganovich, secretary in Turkestan,
who in 1922 became responsible for the organisation and education section of the
secretariat. There was Sergei Kirov, who had been secretary in Azerbaidjan and
became a candidate member of the Central Committee in 1922. There was
Stanislaw Kossior, who followed Yaroslavsky in Siberia, Mikoyan, secretary in the
North Caucasus, who joined the Central Committee in 1922, Ordzhonikidze,
secretary in Transcaucasia who had been on the Central Committee since 1921,
Kuibyshev, secretary in Turkestan, party secretary in 1922 and president of the
Central Control Commission in 1923. Their chiefs were Molotov, chief secretary of
the party since 1921, Soltz, president in the same year of the Central Control
Commission and, above all, Stalin, member of the Politburo, head of the Workers ’
and Peasants ’ Inspection and an influential member of the Organisation Bureau.

All the high officials were Old Bolsheviks, but they formed a characteristic group.
Numerous personal links united them. Kaganovich, Molotov and Mikoyan had all
had important jobs in Nijni-Novgorod at the same time, where a young
apparatchik , Zhdanov, was to follow them. Ordzhonikidze and Stalin, both
Georgians, had been linked in the underground. Kuibyshev attached himself to
Stalin during the Civil War. Stalin, Molotov and Stolz were together in the editorial
committee of Pravda before the war. Moreover, they all had a common outlook, a
conception of existence and activity which distinguished them from the other
Bolsheviks: among them there was neither a theoretician, nor an orator, nor even
a mass leader, but capable, efficient, patient men, discrete organisers, men of
offices and the apparatus, prudent, routinists, workers, obstinate, aware of their
importance, definitively men of order. It was Stalin who united them and brought
them together. It was around him that they formed a fraction, which did not
speak its name, but which acted and extended its network.

Everything was ready in 1922 for the “rule of the bureaux”. Nothing was lacking
but “the right man in the right place”. This was Stalin at the post of General
Secretary, where he could gather into his hand the threads woven in preceding
years. He was the incarnation of the new power of the apparatus. This would be
an accomplished fact after the Eleventh Congress. Can we believe the delegate
who recorded in his memoirs that the candidature of Ivan Smirnov had been
unanimously supported, but that Lenin objected to his being appointed, on the
ground that he was indispensable in Siberia? Can we also believe that Lenin took
twenty-four hours to reflect before he proposed Stalin (30)? Can we imagine an
intervention by Zinoviev, whom a personal hostility to Trotsky brought closer to
the Georgian and who regarded Smirnov as a personal friend of Trotsky? These
are pure conjectures. But the fact remains: the small paragraph in Pravda on April
4, 1922, announced the nomination of Stalin as General Secretary and opened a
new period in the history of the Bolsheviks and that of the peoples of Russia. The
event passed almost un-noticed. Preobrazhensky, alone at the Eleventh Congress
had asked how one man could accumulate within his grasp functions and powers
of this magnitude, in a Soviet regime and a workers ’ party.

With NEP a new era had opened for the Russian Revolution. It renounced, never
to come back to it, the heroic enthusiasm of the apocalyptic years. During the
slow economic recovery, the patient reconstruction which the turn of 1921 made
possible, there sounded the words of Lenin, which had really closed a chapter:
“Carried away by the wave of enthusiasm, we counted, we who had aroused
popular enthusiasm, at first political and then military, we counted on being able
to carry out directly, thanks to this enthusiasm, the economic tasks which were as
great was the general political tasks, as the military tasks. We counted—or,
perhaps it would be more correct to say, we thought, without sufficient
calculation—that we would be able to organise the production and distribution of
products by the state, by the express orders of the proletarian state, in the
Communist manner. Life has demonstrated our mistake … It is not by relying
directly on enthusiasm, but by means of the enthusiasm engendered by our great
revolution, giving free play to personal interest, personal advantage, applying the
principle of commercial profitability, that to begin with in the land of small
peasants we must construct solid bridges to socialism, passing by way of “state

Some years later, Bukharin the tender, the ardent, had in his turn to declare the
new feelings which the turn had produced in him: “In the fire of self-criticism, the
illusions of the period of childhood are destroyed and vanish without trade, the
real relations emerge in their sober nudity and the proletarian policy assumes the
character sometimes less emotional but also more assured—of a policy which is
very close to reality and, also, modifies reality. From this point of view, the
passage to NEP represents the collapse of our illusions” (32).
These are the totally different conditions in which the new period opened: there is
more grey and more routine, less heroism and less lyricism. The apparatchiks
appeared right on cue. Yet nobody among those who saw them growing and who
ran up against them believed their victory to be possible. How could the office-
people take away from Lenin the leadership of his party?


1. The full text, pp. 22—23 of the study “The Kronstadt Rising”, by George Katkov, which appeared
in No. 6 of the St. Anthony ’s Papers, Soviet Affairs, by far the most complete and at the same time
the most recent. In French, in addition to the book by Voline, see “La commune de Kronstadt”, by
Ida METT (Spartakus), which advances the same viewpoint, and the dossier published in 1959 in
“Arguments” No. 14.

2. Katkov, op. cit., p. 28

3. Ibidem, pp. 29—32

4. Ibidem, p. 32

5. Serge, Memoirs d ’un Revolutionnaire”, p. 129

6. Katkov, op. cit., p. 42

7. Quoted by Schapiro, “The Communist Party of the Soviet Union”, p. 205

8. Speech at the Tenth Congress, in “Bulletin Communiste”, No. 15, April 14, 1921, p. 243

9. Radek, “Cronstadt”, “Bulletin Communiste” No. 19, May 12, 1921, p. 322.

10. Serge, op. cit., p. 130

11. Quoted by Barmin, “Vignt Annees au service de l ’URSS”, Paris, Albin Michel, 1939, pp. 143—144

12. Quoted by E. H. Carr, “The Bolshevik Revolution”, Vol. 2, p. 277

13. Trotsky, “The First Five Years of the Communist International”, pp. 219—226

14. Quoted by Suvarin in “Stalin”, p. 298

15. Fainsod, “Smolensk under Soviet Rule”, p. 45

16. Quoted in Schapiro, “The Bolsheviks and the Opposition”, p. 222

17. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 32, p. 178

18. R. V. Daniels, “The Conscience of the Revolution”, p. 147

19. Report and Resolution, in “Bulletin Communiste”, No. 24, July 9, 1921, pp. 401- 405

20. Ibidem, p. 403

21. Quoted in Schapiro, “The Bolsheviks and the Opposition”, pp. 262—263

22. Ibidem, p. 264

23. Quoted by John Daniels in “Labour Review”, No. 2, 1957, p. 47

24. Quoted by R. V. Daniels, “Conscience …”, p. 150

25. Quoted by Schapiro, “The Bolsheviks and the Opposition”, p. 268

26. Sosnovsky, “Taten und Menschen”, p. 153

27. Ibidem, p. 152

28. Quoted in R. V. Daniels, “Conscience …”, p. 166

29. Ibidem, p. 165

30. Ibidem, p. 170

31. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol ?

32. Bukharin, in “Bolshevik, No. 2, April 1924, p.1

Chapter VIII. The Crisis of 1923: the Debate on the New


On May 26, 1922, Lenin was struck down by illness. He convalesced during the
summer, but was able to resume normal activity only in October. It is therefore
difficult to ascertain what he accepted and covered during his period of semi-
retirement. However, the entire final period of his political life, at the end of 1922
and during the two first months of 1923, was marked by his personal break with
Stalin and the opening of the struggle against the apparatus which his final
collapse was to interrupt. For a long time, the only elements of information which
a historian could use were those contributed by Trotsky, confirmed as to this or
that point of detail by an allusion in a Congress or a statement. Stalinist
historiography ferociously denied, of course, this version which the “revelations”
contained in the Khrushchev speech have definitely validated, at least in its main

Lenin and the Bureaucracy

It would have been surprising if a man of Lenin ’s intellectual powers had not been
able to grasp the risks of degeneration which the victory of the revolution and its
isolation in a backward country implied for the Soviet regime and the party. He
had written in March-April 1918: “The element of petty-bourgeois disorganisation
(which reveals itself more or less in every proletarian revolution, and which, in our
own revolution, will manifest itself with extreme vigour because of the petty
bourgeois character of the country, its backward state and the consequences of
the reactionary war) must inevitably imprint its mark on the Soviets also … There
exists a tendency to transform the members of the Soviets into
“Parliamentarians”, or, on the other hand, into bureaucrats. This tendency must
be fought by making every member of the Soviets participate in the management
of affairs” (1). It was because he was conscious that the principal obstacle to the
application of this remedy lay in the lack of culture of the masses that on the very
morrow of the seizure of power, he had drafted the decree re-organising the
public libraries, providing for books to be exchanged, for their circulation to be
free, for reading rooms to be open every day, including Sundays and holidays, up
until 11 o ’clock in the evening. But the effects of such measures could not be
immediate. In 1919, at the Eighth Party Congress, he declared: “We know perfectly
well what this low level of culture in Russia means, what it makes of the Soviet
power, which has created in principle a proletarian democracy infinitely superior
to the democracies known hitherto … we know that this low level of culture
degrades the power of the Soviets and revives bureaucracy. In words, the Soviet
state is at the disposal of all the working people; in reality, as none of us fails to
know, it is not within the grasp of all of them, far from it” (2).

His speeches in 1920, 1921 and 1922 are full of references to the bureaucracy of the
state apparatus, to the heritage of Tsarism. But the reflux of the masses, the
fading out or the stifling of the Soviets do not permit the remedies which were at
first envisaged to be applied. Lenin seems to have thought more deeply about the
problem and to have understood that the source of much of the difficulties was
the growing confusion between the state and the party. He declared without
equivocation at the Eleventh Congress: “Incorrect relations between the party
and the Soviet administration have been established: We are all agreed about that
… Formally it is very difficult to remedy, because a single governmental party
leads in our country … I share the blame for this in many respects” (3).

Did he go further in his analysis and envisage the end of the one-party system?
This also seems probable. A manuscript note for an article which he drafted at the
time of the Congress mentions several times the “legalisation” of the Mensheviks.
None the less, he remained convinced of the necessity to act with prudence, in
order not to compromise the still fragile gains and conscious as he was of the
immensity of the difficulties. In a speech to the Central Committee, he stressed
the bad quality of the state apparatus, he went on: “The first steam engine did
not work. What does it matter? We now have the locomotive. Our State
apparatus is frankly bad. What does it matter? It has been created, it is an
immense historic invention, a State of proletarian type has been created”. His
conclusion reflects the awareness which he had of the limits of what could be
done to improve the situation. “The whole kernel of the question consists of
separating firmly, sharply and sanely what is a world-historic merit of the Russian
Revolution with what we are accomplished as badly as possible, what has not yet
been created and what needs to be done again, many times” (4). The pragmatic
character of his thought on these fundamental problems appears perhaps still
more clearly in these lines about the strikes at the beginning of 1922: “Under the
transitional type of proletarian state such as ours, however, the ultimate object of
every action taken by the working class can only be to fortify the proletarian state
and the state power of the proletarian class by combating the bureaucratic
distortions, mistakes and flaws in this state”.

Party, Soviets and trade unions must not, therefore, conceal the fact that
recourse to the strike weapon “where the proletariat holds political power can be
explained and justified only by the bureaucratic distortions of the proletarian
state and by all sorts of survivals of the old capitalist system in the government
offices on the one hand, and by the political immaturity and cultural
backwardness of the mass of the working people on the other” (5).

In fact, before any other measure, it is to the preservation and improvement of

what in his eyes is the essential tool, the party, that Lenin intended to devote his
efforts. When a historian as hostile to Lenin as Schapiro admits that “it seems that
Lenin retained his belief that it was possible to raise the level of his members,
apply a brake to the expansion of careerism and bureaucracy and to develop the
aptitudes of the proletariat and its confidence in itself” (6).

In this connection, the measures of 1922, fixing the probationary period for
admission to the party to six months for workers and for soldiers in the Red Army
of worker or peasant origin, twelve months for peasants and two years for the
other social categories seem to have been inadequate in Lenin ’s opinion. He
proposed six months only for workers who have worked for at least ten months
in heavy industry, eighteen months for other workers, two years for former
soldiers and three years for all the other social categories. His great concern to
preserve the capital of the Bolshevik Old Guard permit the supposition that the
probationary conditions attached to party posts—one year for the secretary of a
cell, three years for a district secretary and membership of the party before
October for a regional secretary—must have had his full, entire approval.

His last writings show, in any case, that he remained faithful in 1923 to the
principles on which he had built the party through the development of workers ’
consciousness: he advised that “workers who have already been employed for a
long time in posts in the Soviets” should be removed from leadership tasks,
because “they have a certain tradition and a certain outlook against which it is a
good thing to fight”. He recommended that reliance be placed on “the best
elements of our social regime, namely the advanced workers first, and in the
second place on really educated people, who, it can be guaranteed, will not
accept anything on anyone ’s say-so and will not say a word against their
conscience” (7).

These speeches and articles, devoted to the theme of the bureaucracy and the
apparatus, were approved by everyone, including the bureaucrats. In Pravda for
January 3, 1923, Sosnovsky nevertheless described how the latter, even those
who applauded, did not change their practice, for all that: “Lenin has often
stressed that the apparatus of functionaries in the offices often become master
over us, when we ought to be the master over it. And they all applaud Lenin, the
commissars, the chiefs and the high officials … They applaud sincerely, because
they all agree with Lenin. But if you button-hole one of them and ask him
whether, in his own office, the apparatus has made itself master of its chief, he
puts on an offended look and replies that it is not the same at all; what Lenin says
is perfectly right, but only for others, for my neighbour; ‘I have got my apparatus
well in hand ’”.

Lenin and the Rise of the Apparatus

When Lenin returned to political activity, after his first attack, he concentrated his
attention on the problem of the rising bureaucracy, which had struck him while he
was resuming contact. He complained about “lies and Communist boasting”,
which “caused him heart-felt distress”. He sought among his comrades-in-arm the
ally and confidant whom he needed before undertaking any offensive. According
to Trotsky; it was to him the Lenin proposed, in November 1922, “a bloc against
bureaucracy in general and against the Organisation Bureau in particular” (8). On
December 14, he suffered a second attack, which left him partially paralysed. On
December 15 he dictated the note which was to become known as his
“testament”. The text was published in l ’325 thanks to the efforts of Max
Eastman. The Russian leaders denounced it for many years as a forgery, until it
was confirmed in 1956 by Khrushchev, with the repercussions which are well
known. In it he commented on the qualities and weaknesses of the principal
Bolshevik leaders, foresaw the possibility of a clash between Stalin and Trotsky
and advised that it be avoided, though he did not suggest a solution.

In the following days he was to undergo a serious shock; this was the revelation
what had been going on in Georgia. In 1921 the Red Army went into Georgia to
support a Bolshevik “insurrection” there. There was lively resistance to Russian
domination, expressed in a strong national sentiment among the Georgian
Communists. In Summer 1922 they openly opposed the proposal of the
Commissar for Nationalities, Stalin, for the formation of a federated republic to
include Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaidjan and to join the Union of Socialist Soviet
Republics on the same basis as the R.S.F.S.R., White Russia and the Ukraine. On
September 15 the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party decided to
oppose the proposal, which was supported by Ordzhonikidze, the secretary of the
regional bureau. A protest from Budu Mdivani, the leader of the Georgian
Communist Party, to Lenin led to a first conflict between Stalin and Lenin, who
accused Stalin of showing himself “in too much of a hurry”.

But in mid-October the Russian Communist Party approved Stalin ’s plan. The
Georgian Communists, despite a plea from Lenin to observe discipline, refused to
submit. Ordzhonikidze was installed at Tiflis and then undertook to break their
resistance by apparatus methods, obliging the Georgian Central Committee to
resign. The operation was probably inspired by Stalin, and Ordzhonikidze was only
its executant, but it was carried through firmly, with recourse to police repression
and violence. The appeals of the Georgian Communists led to a Commission of
Enquiry being set up, under the presidency of Dzerzhinsky. This white-washed the
activities of Ordzhonikidze. Though the Georgian leaders were driven out by the
Organisation Bureau and cut off from their organisation, they none the less
managed to get to Lenin, to whom they presented a devastating file about the
activities which Stalin and Ordzhonikidze had mounted against them in Georgia.

Lenin then discovered in an unpleasant way how extensive the damage was, and
he reproached himself for it, in unaccustomed language for him: “I believe that I
am terribly to blame, before the working people of Russia, for not having
intervened vigorously or radically enough in the business”. The “powerful fortes
which are diverting the Soviet state from its course must be specified: they
emanate from an apparatus which is fundamentally alien to us and represents a
hotch-potch of bourgeois and Tsarist survivals”, “only covered up with Soviet
varnish”, which force the country anew into “a morass of oppression”. He had
very hard words for Stalin, whom he transparently identified as responsible for
the Georgian affair: “The Georgian who despises this side of the affair, who
contemptuously throws out accusations of ‘social-nationalism ’ (when it is he
himself who is not only a real, authentic but a brutal, Great Russian, prison
warder), this Georgian in reality is undermining proletarian class solidarity” (9).

Lenin dictated these lines on December 30, 1922. On January 4, 1923, he added to
his testament the post-script about Stalin, whose brutality he denounced and
who, he recommended, should be removed from the secretariat. He then opened
the attack in public, in an article in Pravda on January 23 about “the inadequacies
of the Workers ’ and Peasants ’ Inspection”, Stalin ’s department. He referred to a
letter which he had written earlier, in September 1921, reproaching him for trying
to “catch people out” or to “unmask” people, rather than to “improve” them. On
February 6 a new article was to appear on the question; this was Lenin ’s last
article. It was entitled “Better Less, but Better”. Without mentioning Stalin ’s
name, be overwhelmed him: “The state of affairs with the State administration is
repulsive”, “there is no worse institution than the Inspection”. It was necessary to
destroy “bureaucracy, not only in the Soviet institutions, but in the party
institutions”. This was a bomb-shell for all informed readers of Pravda : Lenin
denouncing Stalin. Trotsky alone has given an account of the hesitations, which
seem likely to have happened, of the Politburo to publish this article. Kuibyshev
even proposed to point only one copy of it, in order to deceive the sick man (10).
But the complicity of Stalin ’s entourage was denied and the article was published.
Moreover Lenin continued his attacks. The Khrushchev speech confirmed once
and for all and told in detail what Kamenev had told Trotsky two years after these
events about the incident between Stalin and Krupskaya, which led Lenin, on the
night of March 5 and 6, to send a letter to Stalin breaking off personal relations
with him. On March 9 he suffered a third attack which finally deprived him of the
power of speech. The Bolshevik party was deprived of its leader at the moment
when more than ever it needed him: the country was shaken by a grave economic
crisis. Germany was on the point of seeing the outbreak of the long-awaited
revolution. Lenin was on his death bed.
The Economic Crisis: the Scissors Crisis

The first results of NEP were positive. The economic organism began to work
again. Agriculture, freed from the strait-jacket of requisitions, was developing.
The poor peasant might live badly, but the kulak had important surpluses and the
grain crop for 1922 reached three-quarters of that of pre-war. The cities began to
come back to life. The population of Petrograd, which had fallen to 740,000 in
1920, reached 860,000 in 1923 and soon touched the million mark. Industry also
recovered; the deserted factories, with their windows broken, came back to life.
In 1922 production will still only a quarter of what it had been before the war, but
it was up by 46% on the preceding year. This re-birth was a profound
encouragement, a proof of the vitality and the dynamism of the regime in the
eyes of many Russians. Coming after the black years, it seemed to many to be a
precious conquest, the dawn of a new epoch.

None the less there were dark shadows on the picture. The progress of State
industry was much less noticeable than that of the small artisans and of private
industry. The progress of heavy industry was slow compared with that of light
industry. The rise in the prices of the latter seemed to rob the peasant of a large
part of his profit. Above all, the growth was have important social consequences.
At the start the NEP brought in its train a new relative weakening of the industrial
proletariat, which had initially benefitted from it as consumers. On the other
hand, the cadres of newly re-born industry, the administrators and engineers,
recruited from among technicians of bourgeois origin, concerned about the rate
of profit and productivity, assumed an importance which caused anxiety to the
trade unions. From autumn 1922 onwards the rise in the prices of industrial
products led to a rise in unemployment. From 500,000 at that date it rose to
1,250,000 in summer 1923. Economic freedom led to rising differences in earnings,
which were higher in the industries producing consumer goods than in heavy
industry and higher in private than in state industry. The “Red Industrialists” felt
the pressure of the party to reduce their outgoings and raise productivity; the first
effects of this were, precisely, to raise unemployment while earnings stagnated.

The crisis continued to get worse in spring and summer 1923. Trotsky presented a
diagram to the Twelfth Congress, at which he called it “the scissors crisis”. The
curves of prices of industrial and of agricultural products had intersected in
autumn 1922, but since then had not ceased to diverge. At the end of summer
1923, industrial prices reached 180% to 190% of the pre-war level, while agricultural
prices stagnated at about 50.. The increase of productivity, the only means
envisaged of bringing down industrial prices, involved concentration of
enterprises, and, therefore, unemployment. Within the framework of NEP the
long-term interests of the economy inflicted new sufferings on the workers. The
problem arose of knowing whether the NEP should be maintained as a whole—
which meant deferring until much later the recovery of heavy industry, lowering
industrial prices by decree and seeking to conciliate the peasants by developing
exports and by tax reliefs—or whether it should be corrected by aid to industry.
At the Politburo the majority chose the first solution, the status quo . Trotsky
spoke in favour of starting the planning aimed above all at enabling heavy
industry to be developed. This disagreement was under the surface at the Twelfth
Congress in March 1923, and it was brought out to the public only in autumn 1923.

The Defeat of the Revolution in Germany

Indeed the year 1923 witnessed the appearance in Germany of a revolutionary

situation without precedent in an advanced country. The crisis of the
“reparations” which Germany owed to the Allies, the occupation of the Ruhr by
French troops, the policies of the leading circles of German capitalism, resulted in
a catastrophic inflation. The mark collapsed. The pound sterling was quoted at
50,000 marks in January, and 1,500,000 marks in July and at 5,000,000 in August.
The entire social structure was disrupted to its foundations. The owners of fixed
incomes were hopelessly ruined. The small bourgeoisie were driven down into
poverty, while the workers, who, none the less, could defend themselves better,
saw their standard of living plummet.

This economic catastrophe brought in its train a political upheaval. The financial
strength of the social-democratic party and of the trade unions was wiped out by
the inflation. Their influence, based on the “aristocracy of labour”, the better-paid
workers, disappeared into thin air. The State collapsed: it no longer had the funds
to pay the civil servants, even the forces of repression. During this time, the
owners of capital invested in plant or in foreign stocks made fabulous profits. The
peasants held back their stocks from the market: the cities were starving.
Outbreaks, fights and street demonstrations multiplied, expressing the double
hatred of the foreign imperialists and of the capitalists who were making money
out of the crisis. High finance and the army financed groups of the extreme right.
anti-capitalist in ideology and programme, like the Nazi party of Adolf Hitler. The
revolution threatened, more serious still than in 1918—19.

The situation was very different. The small oppositional groups of 1918—19,
divided and scattered, had given place to a powerful Communist party. It had over
200,000 members in the workers ’ fortresses in the beginning of 1923. Its
influence was expressed in a vote twenty times higher than its membership. It
had a solid apparatus and enjoyed the financial and technical support of the
International. Since the crisis of 1921, it had been re-oriented towards “the
conquest of the masses”. When the crisis opened, the progress of the Communist
Party was amazing: in the engineering union in Berlin the Communist candidates
won twice as many votes as those for the social-democratic candidates: the
preceding year, they had won one-tenth. But none the less the leadership was
deeply divided, and it hesitated.

In spring 1923 the majority of the party was turning towards a prudent line, the
originator of which was Radek, who was concerned above all to break the
diplomatic isolation of the U.S.S.R. and did not have a great deal of confidence in
the victory of a revolution. The Communists extended their hands to the Nazis for
an anti-imperialist united front. The Left of the Communist Party, which was
powerful in the Ruhr, pushed for revolutionary action, but the leadership

The strike of the printers in the National Bank, on July 10, 1923, provoked a
spontaneous General Strike. This swept the Cuno Government out of office. The
German bourgeoisie sought help from the Allies. The Communist International
and the Bolshevik leaders began to interest themselves in what was going on in
Germany. The leadership of the German Communist Party was summoned to
Moscow. The whole summer passed in feverish preparations “for the seizure of
power”, the perspective of which the secretary of the German Communist Party,
Brandler, finally accepted. The Germans demanded that Trotsky be sent to lead
the insurrection. Zinoviev opposed, and Piatakov and Radek went, with a large
entourage of technicians. Red Guards, “proletarian hundreds” were organised.
Stocks of arms were gathered. The leaders counted on the factory committees
and the action committees of the unemployed workers and of women to play the
role of Soviets. In Saxoney and Thuringia, the Communists entered governments
led by the social-democrats of the left, in order to transform these regional
governments into bastions of the revolution. Brandler became a minister in the
government of Dr. Zeigner. While they were waiting, and in fear of premature
risings, the militants held back the impatient masses in Germany and suspended
every activity but conspiracy. This detailed plan failed: the leadership failed to
convince the conference of factory committees at Chemnitz and it called off the
insurrection. The favourable moment passed. As Trotsky wrote: “The hopes of the
masses changed into disillusion thanks to the passivity of the party, while the
enemy recovered from his panic and took advantage of this disillusions” (11).

The Reichswehr re-established order in Saxony and crushed the Hamburg rising.
With American aid, capitalist Germany was to recover. Every chance of an early
success of the revolution disappeared. The Russian leadership, and especially
Zinoviev, bore a crushing burden of responsibility for this defeat, because
Brandler bad done nothing without consulting it. In fact, the Russian leadership
made him carry the weight of responsibility, because it supported his removal
from the leadership of the German Communist Party and denounced him. Stalin,
who had counselled “applying a brake to the Germans” rather than “pushing
them forward” (12), and Zinoviev, the President of the International, did not wish
to accept the responsibility for their mistakes.

The consequences were no less dramatic for political development in Russia.

During the summer of 1923 an internationalist, revolutionary fervour shook the
party. Meetings, banners, advertisements and articles celebrated the approach of
the victory of the German October. The young generation tasted the
revolutionary enthusiasm and was passionate for it. Under the stimulus of the
forces of the youth which thus were mobilised, the party seemed to revive. The
shock which it experienced expressed itself in the discussions of that winter (13).
But the defeat of the German Communists without a struggle, accordingly, this
time for a long time, condemned the Russian revolution to a ghetto. The
disillusion which it provoked, when the Russian leaders had presented the victory
of the revolution as assured and near at hand, was to weigh heavy on the morale,
the confidence and. The activity of the militants. It was to be a determining factor
in the open explosion of the conflict, which had been delayed by anxious waiting
on the events

The maturation of the crisis

Lenin was out of action. This postponed a struggle which, in April 1923, had
seemed to be inevitable, between him and Stalin, the incarnation of the
apparatus. Trotsky, to whom Fotieva, Lenin ’s secretary, passed on March 6 the
letter of Lenin on the national question, which he had dictated on 30 and 31
December 1922, did not wage the struggle which he had planned with Lenin to
undertake. He told Kamenev in March that he was opposed to any struggle at the
Congress to change organisational arrangements. He was for maintaining the
status quo, against replacing Stalin, against the exclusion of Ordzhonikidze and
against punishments in general. He awaited excuses, a change of attitudes, a
demonstration of good will, the abandonment of his intrigues and “honest co-
operation” from Stalin (14).

We could speculate endlessly about this surprising attitude, this abandonment of

the bloc with Lenin. Was Trotsky afraid of posing openly his claim to be Lenin ’s
successor? Did he want to keep all the possibilities on his side, in case Lenin soon
recovered? Did he want to avoid embittering personal relations which were
already far from cordial, for a long time, with certain Old Bolsheviks, who
regarded him as an intruder, as having joined them at the eleventh hour, who
were jealous of his popularity and prestige and who feared his authority as chief
of the Red Army as muck as they feared the sarcasm of his mordant wit? Was it an
inferiority complex or was hesitationic characteristic of the man? No doubt the
answer will never be known. The explanations in his autobiography are
unconvincing. One thing is certain: the retreat did him no good; he seems to have
under-estimated his adversary.

Stalin got out of a difficult situation when Trotsky abstained on the Georgian
question at the 12th Congress. In the following months he was to re-establish his
compromised position, and to tighten again on the party that grip which probably
only Trotsky could have relaxed in Spring 1923. In fact Bukharin seems to have
been seriously concerned about the risks of internal degeneration of the
victorious revolution at that time. In a speech entitled, “Proletarian Revolution
and Culture”, which he delivered in Petrograd, he emphasised that the low culture
of the proletariat, (considerably lower than that of the bourgeoisie, whereas the
bourgeoisie, in the course of its revolution, had been culturally far above the
feudal classes which it overthrew,) meant that the “overhead costs” which were
inevitable in the proletarian revolution greater than those of the bourgeois
revolution of the pest. There he believed that degeneration was a real danger. It
could come, in the first place, from employing, as was inevitable, elements who
were politically hostile but were technically capable in positions of responsibility.
There was the risk that they would “little by little fill the Soviet forms with a
bourgeois content, which would liquidate the revolution”. The proletarian
content of the apparatus, further, did not seem to Bukharin to be a sufficient
guarantee against this evolution: “Even a proletarian origin, the most horny hands
and other equally remarkable qualities are not a sufficient guarantee against the
transformation of privileged proletarian elements into a new Glass” (15). None the
less, it was not an alliance of Trotsky and Bukharin which was to emerge from the
parallel reflections of the two leaders.

The oppositions crystallised in the Politburo on the question of immediate

economic policy, in the discussion on the scissors crisis. Stalin, Zinoviev and
Kamenev were for the status quo . They opposed the proposals for planning and
industrialisation, which Trotsky advanced. Their alliance was soon to be known as
the “troika ”: it was to be sealed in their defence of the apparatus, which was
vigorously attacked at the Congress by several delegates, as well as in the hostility
to Trotsky, which they shared, and which he did not disarm by his refusal to can in
question a situation which many of his friends regarded as intolerable.

Preobrazhensky denounced the failure to apply the principal decisions of the

Tenth Congress, including that about internal democracy. He denounced the
growth of the authoritarian regime, the substitution, at every level, of the system
of appointment for that of election. Vladimir Kossior attacked the “clique” of the
General Secretary, the systematic persecution of militants by giving unpleasant
posts to militants who dared to voice criticisms and systematic preference for
docility over abilities as criteria in the choice of functionaries. Lutovinov spoke
ironically of the papal infallibility on which the leadership prided itself with its
“claims to save the party without the members”. Budu Mdivani and Makharadze,
who had been crushed at the Georgian Congress in March, denounced the Great-
Russian chauvinism of the apparatus which Stalin and Ordzhonikidze manipulated.
Bukharin called the policy a Stalin in relation to subject nationalities a “chauvinist”
one. He stressed the bias which the majority of the delegates expressed, on the
basis of information derived only from the apparatus, towards the Georgians
charged with deviationism. In the name of the Ukrainian delegation, Rakovsky
spoke about a policy of “Russification” of the minorities and said that Stalin was
returning to the policy of Tsarism in this matter. It was Rakovsky who appealed to
the authority of Lenin and to that of his letter, which still remained un-published,
on the national question, in order to condemn the centralising conception which
Stalin had succeeded in establishing in the Constitution of the U.S.S.R.

Trotsky, for his part, left the hall during the discussion of the Georgian affair and
remained silent during the discussions about the apparatus. He supported the
“troika ” with a declaration that the solidarity of the Politburo could not be
broken as well as that of the Central Committee, and replied indirectly to
criticisms with an appeal for discipline and vigilance almost like that made by
Zinoviev. A kind of special conception of “ministerial solidarity” in the Politburo
led him to assume Public responsibility for a policy which he had resisted and to
agree to withdraw even from Lenin ’s positions, because he opposed neither the
re-election of Stalin a general secretary nor the election of Kuibyshev to the head
of the Control Commission. He gave up his chance to use the weapons which he
possessed in the service of a policy which he believed to be correct. Thereby he
voluntarily disarmed those who could have supported him and transformed
himself into a hostage in the hands of his opponents. Bukharin, who at the
Congress had opposed the “troika ”, was to become one of its most effective
supporters in the coming months.

No doubt Trotsky did not have to wait long to understand that his sacrifice had
been in vain. Stalin tightened his grip on the apparatus of secretaries, established
his authority over the Central Committee, the members of which were raised to
forty, and the overwhelming majority of whom supported the “troika ”. He had
the Tatar Communist, Sultan-Galiev, arrested on pretext of conspiracy; the letter
was guilty of having aimed at a Soviet Federation of the Muslim peoples and was
to be charged with “undermining the confidence of the formerly oppressed
nationalities in the revolutionary proletariat”. The economic situation
deteriorated during the summer of 1923. Wages were not paid and savage strikes
broke out. A small group of oppositionists who called themselves the “Workers ’
Group” tried to intervene in the movement in order to take the leadership of it,
but were immediately suppressed by the G.P.U. Miasnikov was arrested in June,
Kuznetzov and twenty-eight other Communists in September, charged with
organising a street demonstration. The G.P.U. struck in the same way at the
“Workers ’ Truth” group of the old man Bogdanov. All these militants were
excluded from the party. The situation was so serious that Dzerzhinsky declared
to a sub-committee of the Central Committee in September: “The decay of our
party, the extinction of our internal life, the substitution of appointment for
election are becoming a political danger” (16).

Yet it was the same man, who was responsible for repression of the workers ’
opposition groups, who was to provoke the open break and Trotsky ’s entry into
the struggle, when he demanded at the Politburo that every party member must
undertake to denounce to the G.P.U. any oppositional activity. This initiative
seems to have convinced Trotsky of the gravity of the situation. At the same
moment he succeeded in preventing Stalin from joining the military revolutionary
committee, by threatening to resign himself, but he had to accept the exclusion
of his faithful assistant in the Civil War, Skliansky, “the Carnot of the Russian
Revolution”, and his replacement by two supporters of the troika , Voroshilov and
Lashevitch. This is how, having become the target of attacks by the troika , he
decided to carry on the struggle which hitherto he had conducted only unwillingly
behind the scenes.

The Struggle in the Central Committee

On October 8, 1923, Trotsky addressed to the Central Committee a letter which

was to place him at the head of the Opposition. It analysed the proposal of
Dzerzhinsky and pointed out that it revealed “an extraordinary deterioration of
the situation in the interior of the party since the Twelfth Congress”. He admitted
that the arguments in favour of workers ’ democracy developed at that time
seemed to him to be a little touched with exaggeration and even demagogy
“because of the fact that total workers ’ democracy is not compatible with the
regime of the dictatorship”. He declared that, since the Congress, “the
bureaucratisation of the Party apparatus has developed to an un-heard-of degree,
because the secretariat uses the method of appointment. A broad layer of
militants has come into existence which has entered the governmental apparatus
of the party, and which is completely giving up their own opinions as party
members, or, at any rate, an open expression of them, as if the bureaucratic
apparatus were the hierarchy which creates the opinion of the party and its
decisions”. One of the characteristics of this authoritarianism, “ten times greater
than that in the darkest days of the civil war”, is the role which is played in the
party by “the secretary psychology”, the main feature of which is that the
secretary is capable of deciding everything”. The discontent of militants who are
deprived of their rights leads to the danger of producing “a crisis of extraordinary
severity, to the extent that they identify perhaps the “Old Bolsheviks” with “the
secretariat”. Trotsky ended by threatening to appeal from the Central Committee
to the whole party, if the latter refused to redress the situation (17).

On October 15, 1923, 46 militants—some of whom at least were informed of

Trotsky ’s initiative, though we cannot attribute theirs to him—addressed a
declaration to the Central Committee. Among them were to be found some of the
most eminent Bolsheviks the glories of the Civil War: Preobrazhensky, Alski,
Serebriakov, Antonov-Ovseenko, Ivan N. Smirnov, Vladimir Smirnov, Piatakov,
Muralov, Sapronov, Ossinsky, Sosnovsky and Vladimir Kossior. Though the
document was secret, its text reveals the depth of the internal crisis which led to
suck a broad grouping of responsible militants on a platform of struggle for
internal democracy. The economic difficulties were traced to the empiricism of
the leadership of the Central Committee. Successes had been won “in the
absence of all leadership”. But there was danger of a severe economic crisis, in
the absence of appropriate measures and particularly of an active policy of
planning. The bankruptcy of the leadership expressed itself in the condition of the
party, subject to a regime of dictatorship, no longer a living organism or acting by
itself. “We are more and more witnessing an ever-growing division between the
hierarchy of the secretariat and “the quiet people”, and this is now hardly
concealed in the party, ’ between the professional functionaries of the party,
appointed and selected from above, and the mass of the party, which does not
participate in their group life”. Congresses and conferences were being more and
more transformed into “executive assemblies of the hierarchy”. “The regime
which has been put into operation in the party is absolutely intolerable: it kills all
initiative in the party. The summit has an apparatus of appointed functionaries
which undeniably functions in a normal period, but which inevitably misses fire in
a period of crisis, and which threatens to end up in total bankruptcy in the face of
the serious events which are going to confront us” (18).

The first reply which the Politburo addressed to Trotsky shows that the leadership
refused to accept the discussion on the ground on which it was begun. They
mentioned that Trotsky had refused to become vice-president of the council,
accused him of “wanting all or nothing” and ascribed his opposition to unlimited

Their second reply was to come at the plenary session of the Central Committee
and of the Central Control Commission on October 25—27, 1923. Trotsky was
struck down by the strange illness which kept him or the fringe of the decisive
struggles of this period, was not present. Preobrazhensky proposed immediate
measures, on behalf of the Opposition: discussion of the great political questions
in every branch, complete freedom of expression within the party, a discussion in
the press, a return to the system of electing party officials and the examination of
the cases of militants “transferred” because of their opinions and their criticisms.
The Central Committee hit back on the level of discipline, with accusations of
fractionalism: “The gesture of comrade Trotsky, at a crucial moment in the
experience of the party and of the world revolution”, was “a grave political error,
particularly because comrade Trotsky ’s attack directed against the Politburo, has
objectively the character of a fractional gesture, which threatens to strike at the
unity of the party and to give rise to a crisis within it”. It had, further, “served as a
signal to a fractional group”. The declaration of the 46 was denounced as a
divisive act “threatening to place the entire life of the party in the coming months
under the sign of an internal struggle and in that way to weaken the party at
moment which is crucial for the fate of the international revolution” (19). The
declaration would, therefore, not be published. The situation none the less
appeared to be sufficiently serious for a discussion to be opened in the party and
in the columns of its press. Once again, discussion was to serve as a safety-valve.

The Debate

The controversy was to develop between November 1923 and March 1924.
Zinoviev opened the debate in “Pravda ” on November 7. “The bad thing”, he
wrote, “is that most essential questions are settled in advance, from above
downwards”. For this reason, “it is necessary that workers ’ democracy in the
party, about which so muck has been said, begin to take on more reality”. Of
course, centralisation is inevitable, but the widening of discussions is desirable.
There was nothing either decisive or aggressive in this good-natured and rather
disillusioned way of opening the debate.

The first discussions turned about serious criticisms of the functioning of the
apparatus. Bukharin declared: “If we enquire and find out how many times the
elections are settled in the party simply by these Questions being pronounced
from the chair: ‘Who is for? Who is against? ’, we shall soon find that in most cases
the elections have become simply formalities. Not only are the votes taken
without any previous discussion, but they are taken solely on the question, ‘Who
is against? ’. You get yourself into trouble with the authorities if you vote ‘against ’
them, so it is not hard to forecast the usual result. This is how elections are carried
on in all our low-level organisations … It goes without saying that suck methods
arouse a strong current of discontent. The same thing happens, with very small
differences, at every level of the party hierarchy” (20).
Most of the other contributions to the discussion in “Pravda ” were less advanced
than this, and restricted to criticising this or that aspect or manifestation of a
spirit of bureaucracy, without generalisation. But the tone changed with the
intervention of Preobrazhensky on November 28. In fact he opened fire on
“comrades, even among the most responsible, who snigger about democracy
within the party in the spirit of the Tenth Congress”. His view was that “the party,
which decided at the Tenth Congress to go over from military to democratic
methods, in fact took precisely the opposite course … This was perhaps inevitable
in the first period of Nep. Now that the change-over to the policy of Nep has been
accomplished … the application of the Tenth Congress resolution is not only
possible, but indispensable. We have not gone over to democracy in time. The
automatism of routine, acquired once and for all, dominates party life: it has been
legitimised”. He appealed to memories of the party when Lenin was its leader,
and stated: “It is characteristic that, in the period when we had enemy fronts all
around us, the life of the party showed much more vitality and the independence
of the organisations was much greater. At the present moment, when not only
are the objective conditions present for the re-animation of the internal life of the
party and its adaptation to new tasks, but also there exists a real necessity for the
party to do so, not only have we not advanced once step beyond the period of
War Communism, but, on the contrary, we have intensified bureaucracy and
petrification and the number of questions settled from above. We have
accentuated the division of the party, which began during the war period,
between those who take decisions and carry responsibilities and the masses who
carry out the decisions of the party, in the elaboration of which they have no

This intervention enabled the limits of the discussion to be drawn. On December 1,

Zinoviev referred to the deprivation of the vote for party members of less than
two years ’ standing and declared: “From the standpoint of abstract workers ’
democracy, this is a parody of democracy. But we thought it necessary from the
standpoint of the fundamental interests of the revolution, the good of the
revolution, to give the vote only to those who appeared to be the real guardians
of the party … The good of the revolution, that is the supreme law. Every
revolutionary says: to hell with the ‘sacred ’ principles of ‘pure ’ democracy!”. On
December 2, Stalin in turn spelt it out: “It is necessary to set bounds to the
discussion, to present the party, which is a combat unity of the proletariat, from
degenerating into a discussion club”.

White this discussion was unfolding, the Politburo was trying to find a basis for
agreement with Trotsky, so that the leadership could adopt a position
unanimously. On Dec- ember 5 it adopted a resolution, which was the result of
discussions in a sub-committee between Stalin, Kamenev and Trotsky, and which
seemed to announce a new course. It recognised that the objective contradictions
of the epoch of transition expressed themselves in a certain number of negative
tendencies, which it was necessary to combat.
Such were “the profound differences between the material situation of members
of the party in relation to the differences of their responsibilities and what is
called the ‘excesses ’, the growth of relations with bourgeois elements and their
ideological influence, the narrowness of the horizon, which must be distinguished
from necessary specialisation, and the appearance on this basis of weakening of
the links between Communists in different sectors of work; a danger of losing
sight of the perspective of socialist construction as a whole and of the world
revolution … the bureaucratisation of the apparatuses of the party and the
development of the danger of a divorce between the party and the masses”. “The
party”, it declared, should proceed to a serious modification of its policy in the
sense of a strict and methodical application of workers ’ democracy”, which
“implies for all comrades the freedom to examine and discuss openly the principal
questions of the party, such as the election of the functionaries and of the
colleges from the bottom to the top”. As practical measures, it recommended:
“the practical application of election of functionaries and especially of secretaries
of cells of the party”, the decision “to submit, except in. exceptional
circumstances, all essential questions of party policy to the examination of the
cells”, an effort to educate cadres, the obligation on all organisms to account for
their work and “a recruitment of new industrial workers” (21).

The principles repeat, perhaps with less precision, those expounded in the
resolution of the Tenth Congress, but the proposed measures were accompanied
with numerous restrictions: it is clear that this resolution was a concession to
discontent which was only too evident. The prohibition of fractions was repeated,
and, coming after the rejection by the Central Committee of Preobrazhensky ’s
proposals and the condemnation of the declaration of the 46 as fractional, clearly
shows what its authors really meant.

However, Trotsky voted for this ambiguous resolution, which did no more than
protect the leadership. He was to justify his vote by saying that, in his opinion, the
text “shifted the centre of gravity in the direction of the activity, the critical
independence and the self-administration of the party” (22). In fact, he knew
perfectly well that his interpretation and the way in which he wanted to apply the
resolution differed profoundly from the conception which the troika had of it: on
December 2, speaking to the Communists of Krassnaia Pressnia, Stalin had just
recognised a sickness, the origin of which he thought to trace in “survivals of war
communism”, in the form of “militarisation in the heads of the working people”

Trotsky gave his own interpretation of the resolution of December 5 in a letter to

the party organisation of Krassnaia Pressnia. He reminded that the danger of
bureaucratism flowed from the apparatus “which is inevitably formed by the
most experienced and meritorious comrades”, and explained his fear that “the
Old Guard” could become fixed and gradually become the most complete
expression of bureaucratism”. He reminded of the precedent of the degeneration
of the leaders of the Second International, though “direct disciples of Marx and
Engels”, and declared that such a danger existed for the old generation of the
Russian Bolsheviks. “It is youth that reacts the most vigorously against
bureaucratism”: he demanded greater confidence in the youth and a change of
methods. “Our youth must not confine itself to repeating our formulae. It must
master them, form its own opinions and its own characteristics and be capable of
fighting for its views, with the courage that comes of profound conviction and
complete independence of character. Out of the party with passive obedience,
which makes people limp mechanically behind the chief s! Out of the party with
impersonality, servility and careerism! The Bolshevik is not only a disciplined man,
but a man who forms a firm opinion in each case and on each question, and
defends it courageously, not only against his enemies, but within his own party”.

Trotsky ’s letter contained an un-disguised tall to battle: “Before the publication

of the decision of the Central Committee on the ‘new course ’, the simple fact of
saying that a change in the internal regime of the party was necessary was taken
as a heresy by the functionaries at the head of the apparatus, as a display of a
disruptive spirit and as an attack on discipline. And now, the bureaucrats are
formally ready to ‘act upon ’ the ‘new course ’, that is, to bury it in practice …
Above all, it is necessary to remove from leading positions those who, at the first
word of protest or objection, brandish the thunderbolts of punishment before
their critics. The first result of the ‘new course ’ must be to make everyone feel
that no one from now on will terrorise the party” (24).

This time the struggle opened between the apparatus on one side and Trotsky
and the 46 on the other. However, the situation was complicated, because the
opposition based itself against the apparatus on Trotsky ’s arguments and
resisted the resolution of October 5, for which he had voted, as a diversive
manoeuvre. Preobrazhensky and his comrades worked out a resolution in which
they proposed the election of party officials at all levels, a new formulation of the
prohibition of fractions permitting real internal democracy and the re-introduction
of the old rule that in matters involving disciplinary punishments the party cell
must make the first decisions.

There was a general meeting of Moscow party members on December 11.

Kamenev showed little spirit of fight there. He stressed the necessity for workers ’
democracy, within which the election of officials alone guarantees freedom of
discussion. He admitted that un-limited workers ’ democracy includes “the right
to form groups”, and justified the opposition of the Central Committee to this
right on the ground that the party was in power. Groups exist on foreign
Communist parties, because “they have not succeeded in eliminating certain
social-democratic survivals in their struggle against the government”. He did not
quote Trotsky, but attacked Preobrazhensky, who denounced the troika and
challenged it to produce a single document of its own. He ended by calling on
members to “vote confidence in the Central Committee” (25).

More interesting were the interventions which followed. Krylenko analysed the
notion of a fraction, which was nothing other than “a distinct group bound by a
special discipline”. In his view, the conception which Kamenev defended was a
confusion of “fraction” with “group”, “reducing all the democracy in the party to
the individual right of comrades to intervene in isolation”, which led to
“suppressing workers ’ democracy in the party”. He declared: “The right to unite
on determined platforms is an absolute right without which internal party
democracy is no more than an empty phrase” (26). The President of the Executive,
Kalinin, admitted squarely that the apparatus did not want democracy: “In the
situation today, no Communist can admit complete democracy … Who suffers
from the absence of democracy? It is not the working Glass, but the party itself.
But within the party there are very few people who are not connected in some
way with the apparatus, who play no part in its complicated work … Who will
profit most from our democracy? In my opinion, it will be those who are not
overloaded with work. Those who are free will be able to benefit wholly from
democracy, while those who are burdened down with work will not be able to do
so” (27). Of the other speakers listed, Yaroslavsky alone delivered a sharp attack
on Trotsky. Sapronov and Preobrazhensky supported the opinions of the
Opposition, explicitly demanding freedom for groups, and Radek appealed to the
authority of Lenin in their support.

Preobrazhensky ’s resolution had a small majority against it, but the feeling of the
meeting seemed to show that the Opposition had the wind in its sails. On
December 15 Stalin was to launch in Pravda the first personal attack: that Trotsky
’s memory is short when he includes himself among the Old Bolsheviks; that the
degeneration risks coming, not from the Old Guard, but from “Mensheviks who
have entered our party and who have not been able to rid themselves of their
opportunist habits”. He accused Trotsky of “duplicity”, on the ground that his
letter of December 10 supported the opposition of the 46 to the Central
Committee for whose resolution he had, nevertheless, voted. He wrote that, in
relation to the youth, Trotsky was practising “base demagogy”.

The tone of the polemic rose another step at the meeting of Petrograd militants
on December 15. Zinoviev mentioned the revelation which Bukharin had just made
in a meeting in Moscow, about the contacts which the Left Communists and the
Left Social-Revolutionaries had had in 1918, about the possibility that the majority
would be overthrown and that a Piatakov government would be formed. He had
two objects: first, he wanted to show that “the struggle of two fractions in a
party which has power contains the germ of two governments”, and, secondly, to
stress that in 1918 a number of the 46 had been “Left Communists” and
opponents of Lenin. Trying to get to the heart of the problem, he declared:
“Bureaucratism must be cleared away, but those who want to reduce the party
apparatus in general must be reminded of their Communist duties, because our
apparatus is the right arm of the party”. On the question of Trotsky ’s attitude, he
launched the thought: “Trotskyism is a well-defined tendency in the workers ’
movement”, but stressed: “whatever our divergences on these questions today,
Trotsky is Trotsky and remains one of our most authoritative leaders. Come what
may, his collaboration in the Politburo of the Central Committee and in the other
organs is indispensable” (28).
During this time, the discussion continued in the columns of Pravda , and the tone
became sharper. Its editor, Konstantinov, lost his job for having protested, on
December 16 and written that “slander and accusations without foundation are
becoming the weapons in discussion of many comrades: this must cease”. His
successor was no more adaptable to the directives from the Central Committee,
and he too was dismissed in his turn. On December 21, Zinoviev attacked a
document by Trotsky entitled “The New Course, which was circulating in the
party: in his opinion, Trotsky was supporting the Central Committee “like the rope
supports the hanging man” and his support really expressed “a resistance to the
line” … “The essential error of comrade Trotsky lies in that he is displaying a
certain re-appearance of old ideas favouring the legitimacy of divergent
currents”. He ended a long description of “Trotskyism” by declaring: “The whole
Central Committee, united as well, perhaps even better, than in the time of
Vladimir Illitch, considers that comrade Trotsky is now committing a radical
political mistake.

The New Course

The document which provoked Zinoviev ’s attack appeared finally in Pravda on

December 28 and 29, 1923. It was not very polemical, despite some ferocious
sallies, and contains a minute and very subtle analysis of the political situation, in
the state apparatus and in the party, a study of the origins of bureaucratism and
an outline of the “new course” Which the party should take. In fact Trotsky
regarded the discussion which was unfolding as marking a stage in the
development of the party, its passage to “a higher historical stage”. As he saw it,
the “mass of Communists” were more or less saying to their leaders: ‘You
comrades have the experience going back to before October 1917 which most of
us lack, but since October under your leadership we have acquired an experience
which daily grows greater. We want, not only to be led by you, but to participate
with you in leading the proletariat. We want this, not only because it is our right,
as members of the party, but also because it is absolutely necessary for the
progress of the proletariat” (29). The explosion of discontent which was shaking
the party resulted from a long preceding evolution, accelerated by the economic
crisis and the long wait for the German revolution, which had led the fact to
appear “with particular sharpness that the party lives in a certain sense on two
levels: the higher level where people reach decisions and the lower level where
people merely became aware of the decisions” (30). The “bureaucratism” which
the resolution of the Central Committee had just recognized was not “some
chance feature” but “a general phenomenon”, much deeper than a mere hang-
over from the past: “The bureaucratism of the war period was nothing compared
to the bureaucratism which has developed in time of peace, when the apparatus
… obstinately continues to think and to decide for the party” (31). It was from this
state of things that a double danger of degeneration flowed: that among the
youth, excluded from participating in the general activity, and in the Old Guard.
“To see an “outrage” or an “attack” in this warning, which is based on objective
Marxist foresight, one must really have the gloomy susceptibility and the
arrogance of bureaucrats” (32).
Trotsky then analysed the social composition of the party, of which less than a
sixth of the members were factory workers, the majority being employed in the
different apparatuses of leadership. The “presidents of regional committees or
divisional commissars, whatever their origin might be, represent a determinate
social type” (33). In other words, “the source of bureaucratism lies in the growing
concentration of the attention and the forces of the party on the governmental
institutions and apparatuses and in the slowness of industrial development” (34)
which does not enable a change to be made in the social composition of the party
within a short time. Bureaucratism, therefore, is “an essentially new
phenomenon, flowing from the new tasks, the new functions and the new
problems of the party” (35). “Apparatus methods” prevail, leadership replaces
administration and “assumes a character of pure organisation, denegerating
frequently into commands”. The “secretary” sees the day-to-day concerns of the
state apparatus, “loses sight of the broad outlines”, and, “believing that he is
moving others, is himself moved by his own apparatus” (36).

Of course, it is desirable, in the Russian Soviet state, in which “the Communist

Party is obliged to monopolise the leadership of political life”, to avoid in the
party “stable groupings … which can take the form of organised fractions”, but it
is impossible, at the same time, to avoid “differences of opinion in a party of half a
million members” (37). Experience shows that “it is quite insufficient to declare
that groups and fractions are a bad thing in order to prevent them from
appearing” (38). The oppositions of 1917, which had been resolved by the taking of
power, those of 1918 by the signing of the peace, those of 1921 by the turn to the
Nep, showed that fractions are overcome by correct policy: the resolution of the
Tenth Congress which prohibited them could possess only “an auxiliary
character”, from this standpoint, within the framework of real workers ’
democracy. Effectively fractions did exist in the party. The most dangerous of
them, which nourished the others, was the “bureaucratic, conservative fraction”,
out of which “provocative voices” were raised, and where “people dug around in
the pest” seeking there “everything that can embitter the discussion” (39), and
where people in this way endanger the unity of the party when they claim to
counter-pose it to the need for democracy.

In his reply to Zinoviev, Trotsky declared that “it would be monstrous to believe
that the party will break its apparatus or will permit anyone else to do so”. But “it
wishes to renew its apparatus, and it reminds the apparatus that it belongs to the
party which elects it and that the apparatus must not detach itself from the
party” (40). As Lenin had already seen, bureaucratism is a social phenomenon
which has profound causes in Russia, in “the necessity to create and to support a
state apparatus which allies the interests of the proletariat and of the peasantry in
perfect economic harmony”, from which they were still far away. The
phenomenon was complicated by the low level of culture of the broad masses.
“Obviously, the party cannot tear itself away from social and cultural conditions”,
as they exist, but, as “a voluntary organisation”, it can preserve itself all the
better if it recognises the danger. Appeals to tradition from the conservative
fraction serve only to disarm the party: “The more the party apparatus is closed in
on itself, the more it is impregnated with a feeling of its own intrinsic importance,
the more slowly does it react to the needs which arise from below, the more it
inclines to counter-posing formal tradition to new needs and new tasks. And, if
anything can strike a mortal blow at the spiritual life of the party and the doctrinal
education of the youth, it is indeed the transformation of Leninism, a method
which for its application demands initiative, critical thought and courage in the
field of ideas, into a dogma, which requires nothing but interpreters appointed
once and for all” (41).

The Battle for the Thirteenth-Conference

The publication of “The New Course” marks the high point of the controversy, but
also the end of the free debate. Thereafter the General Secretary kept a tight
control of Pravda , where Bukharin immediately answered Trotsky, repeating the
accusations of “deviation” and of “opposition to Leninism”. The oppositionists
expressed themselves only infrequently, with their articles surrounded by articles
by supporters of the Central Committee. There was to be no reply to ‘The New
Course” but on the level of courtroom argument. In fact, the theses of Trotsky
and of the 46 seemed to be so successful in Moscow that Trotsky could write, on
December 10, that the capital had “taken the initiative in the revision of the
orientation of the party”. The apparatus understood the danger, and it was to
ensure its success in the discussion by its own methods, using the powers which it
possessed and which, precisely, the opposition wished to take away from it.

The right to nominate enabled it to isolate Trotsky and to behead the Opposition.
The nomination of his friends to high diplomatic posts was not the result of
chance. No suspicion was raised when Joffe was sent to China and then
Krestinsky to Germany. But when Christian Rakovsky was appointed ambassador
to Paris in summer 1923, it was clear that the apparatus was getting rid in this way
of one of the spokesmen for the nationalities at the Twelfth Congress, of a close
friend of Trotsky, of an opponent of Stalin and of one of the most able leaders of
the Opposition which was coming into existence. Rakovsky had not signed the
declaration of the 46 because he had been out of Russia, but the Ukrainian party
was influenced by his friends and by the end of the year became a stronghold of
the Opposition. Chubar, who succeeded Rakovsky as the president of the Council
of Peoples ’ Commissars in the Ukraine, and Kaganovich, who was in charge of the
secretariat, “re-organised” the Ukrainian party. Kotziubinski, an underground
fighter in 1918 and a spokesman for the Opposition, was sent to Vienna. The cells
in the Red Army voted by a majority in favour of the theses of the Opposition.
Antonov-Ovseenko, who was responsible for the Communist Party ’s work in the
army, was removed from his post for having sent round a circular about workers ’
democracy, in conformity with the decisions of the Congress, without having first
referred to the Central Committee. Bubnov, who replaced him, had also signed
the declaration of the 46, but he now repudiated it: in this way Stalin killed two
birds with one stone.
The Communist Youth did not take part in the discussion, but the majority of their
militants who belonged to the party supported the Opposition. Fifteen elected
members of their Central Committee were not merely relieved of their functions
in the organisation by the party secretariat (in breach of the constitution) but also
were sent off “on assignment” to distant localities. This gave the majority in the
leadership to the supporters of the troika . None the less, Trotsky was to publish,
as an appendix to “The New Course ’ a letter from youth leaders, all sympathisers
of the Opposition: these were Federov and Dalin, members of the Central
Committee, Andre Chokin, Alexander Bezymenski and Dugatchev, three of the six
members of the first youth presidium in 1918 and two former Moscow secretaries,
all of whom maintained their positions.

These were exceptions. In Moscow and Petrograd, responsible officials and

members were displaced by being sent to work hundreds or thousands of
kilometers away. The very threat made more than one Oppositionist weaken and
helped more than one vacillator to make up his mind. The Opposition did not
organise itself as a fraction—indeed, Trotsky was not formally a member of it—in
order to avoid being accused of indiscipline. Consequently the apparatus had no
difficulty in isolating the delegates who supported the Opposition and eliminating
them through the system of election at several stages. In Moscow, for example,
the supporters of the Opposition were in a majority in the party cells, but were
not more than 36% in the district conferences and 18% in the provincial conference,
where Preobrazhensky won 61 votes against 325 to Kamenev. Even though the
Opposition had the majority—thanks perhaps to the “displacement” of its
leaders—in centres such as Ryazan-Penza, Kaluge, imbirsk and Cheliabinsk, even
though it was in a majority in at least one-third of the cells in the Red Army and in
nearly all the students ’ cells, it finally had no more than three delegates at the
national conference.

Nothing but apparatus manipulation could have so reduced the representation of

the Opposition. None the less the battle was a grave set-back for it and
disappointment of its initial hopes. To be sure, it had triumphed among the youth
and especially among the students—who represented at this date an intellectual
and active elite of recent working-class origins—and in this confirmed the
forecast of Trotsky. But the Opposition had failed in its principal effort to
influence the workers in the party. In Moscow, where it had most votes, it won a
majority in only 67 out of 346 factory cells. Several explanations for this set-back
have been suggested, for example, the absence in the platform of the 46 of any
appeal to the immediate interests of the workers. Others have stressed that
Trotsky was perhaps unpopular in certain sectors of the working-class since the
trade union discussion. None of these elements can be ignored—Stalin knew
what he was doing when he treated Trotsky as “the patriarch of the
bureaucrats”—but none of them by itself is more satisfactory than those over-
simplified explanations which talk about Stalin ’s skill in manoeuvre or Zinoviev ’s
demagogic methods. Perhaps E. H. Carr is nearer to the truth when he writes:
“The failure of the Opposition to base itself on the proletariat was a symptom of
the weakness, not merely of the Opposition, but of the proletariat itself” (42).
Probably it is this feeling that in the short run defeat was inevitable which explains
the abstention of Trotsky in the final phase of the battle. He was struck down by
this mysterious illness, which never ceased to weigh him down during these years.
He took no part in any of the party meetings outside the Politburo, and left to
Preobrazhensky, Piatakov and others, capable and brilliant people but far from
possessing Trotsky ’s stature, the task of defending the theses which were his and
those of the 46. On December 21 he accepted the verdict of the Kremlin doctors,
who prescribed that he should leave Moscow and take a cure for two months by
the Black Sea. No doubt this contributed to weakening the Opposition. But at any
rate the explanation of it is difficult, and the hypotheses which are proposed
hardly conform to Trotsky ’s combative temperament, when they suggest that he
was hesitant in the face of a struggle over principles or shrank back from its
consequences. It seems more likely that the key to his attitude is to be sought in
his discouragement at the developments in politics which he had not foreseen, in
a feeling of being helpless against an apparatus the ambitions and effectiveness
of which he had certainly not suspected, and in the need for time and an interval
in which to re-examine things.

The Thirteenth Conference

It cannot be said that an intervention by Trotsky at the top of his form could have
influenced the course of things during the several weeks of intense discussion
starting in mid-December. His political semi-paralysis was fundamentally the
logical result of his refusal to fight during Lenin ’s illness, of his almost reluctant
intervention in October and of his tactic of compromise in the Politburo at the
time of the vote on the resolution of December 5. Several weeks before the
conference, at any rate, the stakes were down. The press published no more
articles by the Opposition, but the leaders appeared one after another in its
columns, declaring their determination to ensure that the party took “a new
course”, despite the manoeuvres of the “deviationists”, the “anti-Leninists”, the
“Mensheviks” and the “petty-bourgeois”, disguised under the banner of
“Trotskyism”. The pamphlet, “The New Course”, in which Trotsky ’s principal
speeches were collected, was not to be published until too late to be of use in the
discussion and was to serve less as a weapon in the hands of the Opposition than
as a demonstration of Trotsky ’s ideological solidarity with it. It was the leaders of
the 46 who were to wage in the party by themselves a struggle which they had
begun at the same time but never waged in common.

The debates at the Conference developed in a normal way. Preobrazhensky

intervened in the discussion on economic problems to stress the alarming growth
of private commercial and industrial capital. Piatakov with great brilliance
expounded the theses which were common ground between Trotsky and the 46:
the development of industry posed problems which it was absurd to reduce to a
discussion on how quickly it could be achieved, whereas the problem was one of
leadership. The instrument existed in the form of the State plan (Gosplan), which
should enable improvisation in economic affairs to be given up, and economic
development to be based on a general conception, on precisely specified
objectives consistent with the conditions and the resources available. It is a
mistake to suppose that state industry has to adopt itself spontaneously to the
market, on the ground that the latter develops spontaneously. Planning alone will
permit industry to be adapted and enabled to dominate the market: without it,
nationalisation would become an obstacle to economic development. Molotov,
Kamenev and Mikoyan replied in an ironic tone. They criticised as utopian these
proposals for planning industry through a period of several years. They accused
the Opposition of wanting their centralising, bureaucratic conceptions to prevail
in economic matters and—the eternal accusation against Trotsky and his
friends—wanting to sacrifice the peasantry to the development of industry. There
was no doubt which way the vote would go.

The discussion on the problems of the party was opened by Stalin. He admitted
that a certain bureaucratism existed, and accounted for it as the result of the
pressure which the State bureaucracy exerted on the party, increased by the low
cultural level of the country and the psychological hang-overs from War
Communism. He mentioned the discussions in the sub-committee about the
resolution on workers ’ democracy, and declared:

”I remember how we clashed, with Trotsky, on the question of groups and

fractions. Trotsky did not oppose the prohibition of fractions, but he resolutely
defended the ides of admitting groupings in the party. That is the position of the
Opposition. These people do not seem to understand that when you admit
freedom to form groupings, you open the door to people like Miasnikov and
permit them to mislead the party by presenting a fraction as a grouping. For, what
is the difference between a grouping and a fraction? Nothing but a difference in
appearance … If we admitted groupings, we would ruin the party. We would
transform is from a monolithic organisation, a compact one, into an alliance of
groupings and fractions, which would negotiate between each other and would
conclude alliances and temporary agreements. That would not be a party. It
would be the end of the party” (43). In Stalin ’s opinion, the real tendency to
bureaucracy had provided Trotsky with the pretext for intervening in violation of
discipline, with his “anarcho-Menshevik” point of view, and trying to set the party
against its apparatus, the youth against their elders and the students against the
workers. The unity of the party had to be strengthened. It had to be forewarned
against every danger. In order to demonstrate the determination of the
Bolsheviks, it should include in the final resolution point 7 of the resolution of the
Tenth Congress prohibiting fractions, the point which gave to the Central
Committee the powers to exclude which we know.

Preobrazhensky intervened on behalf of the Opposition. He took up again all the

arguments which had already been advanced, recalling the intense life of the
party in the time of workers ’ democracy. and protesting against the systematic
exhumation of old quarrels and against the identification of the cause of the
bureaucrats with “Leninism”.
Stalin ’s reply was sharper than his opening. The prohibition of fractions had been
voted at the Tenth Congress, at the time when Lenin led the party. The minimum
period of party membership for party officials, which in fact prevented them from
being elected, was decided at the Eleventh Congress: Lenin was the leader of the
party. What Preobrazhensky and his friends were demanding was “a modification
of the line of party behaviour which was closely attached to Leninism”. In his reply
to Preobrazhensky he explained clearly what he really thought on a precise point:
the fact is unusual enough at this time to deserve notice. “In fact”, he declared,
“what does Preobrazhensky ’s line of argument lead to? He wants nothing more
nor less than to restore the life of the party the character which it had in 1917 and
1918. At that time the party was divided into groups and fractions. It was prey to
internal struggles, at a dangerous point in its history, placed before a question of
life or death … Preobrazhensky presents the life of the party in 1917 and 1918 to us
in ideal colours. But we know only too well this period in the life of the party, the
difficulties in which vent as far as provoking grave crises. Is Preobrazhensky
thinking of restoring this state of affairs, this “ideal state” of our party?” (44). In
reality, Stalin argued, the threat to the party came from a heterogeneous
coalition, ranging from Trotsky, “the patriarch of the bureaucrats”, to “perpetual
anti-Leninists” such as people like Preobrazhensky and Sapronov.

The final resolution laid down that the party had been subjected to attack by a re-
groupment of small circles of former oppositionists who were gathered round the
“fractionist” activity of Trotsky. The Opposition “has issued as its slogan the
destruction of the party apparatus in its effort to shift the centre of gravity of the
struggle against the bureaucracy of the State into the party”. Its positions were
condemned as “an abandonment of Leninism”, “reflecting objectively the
pressure exerted by the petty bourgeoisie”. The resolution laid down as the
remedy for the bureaucratisation, the existence of which it recognised, the rapid
recruitment of a hundred thousand factory workers, the reduction of the number
of students in the party, improvement in the education of party members by
systematic teaching of “Leninism”, tightening discipline and greater severity in
the repression of “fractional activities” (45).

The troika , then, finally won a complete political victory. Moreover, the apparatus
vigorously resisted the first serious attack. What were the party militants
thinking? For many of them, no doubt, there existed no problem: the party
continued, having overcome a momentary crisis. Some were troubled by the
attacks of the Old Bolsheviks on Trotsky, who since 1917 had, with Lenin,
incarnated the party. The most cynical and demoralised counted the hits in the
struggle for power which unfolded before their eyes. Many apparatchiks , like
Kalinin, had clear consciences: they had the impression that Trotsky had stabbed
the palty in the back and that the party had effectively defended itself.

A wave of discouragement spread through the supporters of the Opposition.

Some militants committed suicide: these included Lutovinov, the Old Bolshevik,
leader of the Workers ’ Opposition, Eugenia Bosch, a party militant before the
war, who organised the underground party in the Ukraine during the Civil War,
Glatzmann, one of Trotsky ’s secretaries and a number of other less-known
militants. Others paid in their material situation for taking up a position which was
punished by being transferred. Some made up their minds to be more prudent in
future. For the nucleus of those who remained convinced that they had been
correct as against the party, there could be no question of resisting after the vote
of the conference: these were disciplined militants. None the less, the political
battle which had just unfolded had cast a lurid light on the advance and the depth
of the degeneration, the symptoms of which they had emphasised.

For the first time in the history of the party, there had been a struggle, not so
much about principles, ideas or problems of tactics as about personal questions.
In addition, also, the apparatus openly intervened, imposing its discipline in the
vote by intimidation and even violence. Yet, for all of them, one hope remained:
the recovery of Lenin, whose personality and authority could reverse a situation in
the party which was still a dangerous one, with the party still trembling from the
blows which the protagonists in the conflict over the “new course” had dealt
each other.

1. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 27, pp. 272—3.

2. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 29, pp. 183—4.

3. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 33, p. 306

4. Ibid. pp. 301—2

5. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 33, p. 187.

6. Schapiro, “The Bolsheviks and the Opposition”, p. 278.

7. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 33, p. 490

8. Trotsky, My Life, p. 499.

9. The existence of these notes was revealed by Trotsky, but they were not published until after the
20th Congress. See Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 36, p. 608.

10. L. Trotsky, “Stalin School of Falsification”, New Park, 1974, pp. 57—8.

11. L. Trotsky, “Lessons of October”.

12. The full text is in L. Trotsky, “Stalin”, p. 368.

13. Ruth Fischer, “Stalin and German Communism”, p. 312.

14. L. Trotsky, “My Life”, p. 505ff.

15. L. Revo, “La Revolution et la Culture”, “Bulletin Communiste” No. 2, 1924. ¥ (16) Quoted in
Pravda , December 13, 1923, by Kamenev.

16. [N/A]

17. The full text of Trotsky ’s letter is unknown and is not found in the Harvard Archives. There are
large extracts from it in Max Eastman, “Since Lenin Died”, Appendix IV.

18. The full text, translated from Russian into English, is quoted in E. H. Carr, “The Interregnum”, pp.

19. R. V. Daniels, “The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia”,
Harvard University Press, 1960, p. 219—220.

20. Stenographic report of the Thirteenth Congress, p. 154, quoted by Eastman, op. cit. pp. 51—2.

21. International Correspondence No. 5, January 24, 1924, pp. 42—45.

22. L. Trotsky, “The New Course”, New Park 1956, p. 76.

23. Bulletin Communiste No. 5, 1924, pp. 135—138.

24. Trotsky, ibid., pp. 79—80.

25. Bulletin Communiste No. 5, 1924, pp. 135—138.

26. Bulletin Communiste No. 1, 1924, p. 7.

27. Ibid. p. 6.

28. Bulletin Communiste, No. 8, 1924, p- 222—228.

29. Trotsky, ibid., p. 14.

30. Ibid., p. 15.

31. Ibid., p. 16.

32. Ibid., p. 19.

33. Ibid., p. 21.

34. Ibid., p. 22.

35. Ibid., p. 23.

36. Ibid., pp. 24—5

37. Ibid., p. 27.

38. Ibid., P. 28.

39. Ibid., p. 33.

40. Ibid., p. 34.

41. Ibid., p. 42 and p. 49.

42. E. H. Carr, “The Interregnum”, p. 328.

43. Stenographic report, quoted in Leites and Bernaut, “Ritual of Liquidation: Bolshevism on Trial”,
Glencoe, Illinois Free Press, 1954.

44. International Correspondence No. 8, 1924, p. 70.

45. Resolution of the Thirteenth Conference, Bulletin Communiste No. 9, 1924, p. 238.

Chapter IX. The Interregnum and the New Opposition

On January 21, 1924, Lenin died. The problem of his formal succession had already
been settled. The colourless Rykov became President of the Council of People ’s
Commissars. Trotsky, who was still away from Moscow, was warned too late to
return in time. It was the members of the troika who presided at the funerary
ceremonies, delivered the speeches and celebrated the memory of the deceased.
Stalin, the last orator, recited the “commandments” of the dead man in the style
of a litany. This almost mystical exaltation, reminiscent of the bible and nearer to
the tradition of the priests of the Orthodox Church than to the teachings of Marx,
sounded strangely in the great hall of the Congress of Soviets: a page had been

The transformation of the Party

The campaign to recruit industrial workers, decided by the Thirteenth Conference,

was placed under the patronage of the dead leader. The so-called ‘Lenin Appeal”
was to bring in more than two hundred thousand new members in a few months,
and ended by raising the party membership by 50% in a year. Despite its label, the
campaign sanctioned a profound break from the methods employed during Lenin
’s lifetime. On the one hand, it was no longer a question of the enthusiastic,
convinced joining by workers who had been won by other party members, nor
even of that of ambitious people obliged by the force of things to give the proofs
of themselves and to show capacity and devotion.

It was now an almost official recruitment, carried out within the framework of the
factories, under the pressure of secretaries who were the official authorities and
who did not lack means of pressure with which to make workers, concerned
above all with their day to day problems and the necessity to keep their jobs, join
the one and only party. The newcomers, moreover, were for the most part
completely or largely lacking education. They formed the majority of the 57%
illiterates who, according to Stalin, were in the party in May 1924. Consequently
they were a long way away from the problems of politics, inexperienced and

In the hands of the apparatus they formed a docile army, always falling in behind
the leadership, very distant in every way from the revolutionary spirit of the
Bolshevik workers, who were to be swamped under the numbers of mulish
members. In their favour the restrictions imposed by the earlier congresses were
waived: the newcomers were to use their membership rights to the full, were to
vote, to fill responsible posts, were to be able to be delegates at conferences,
without any account being taken of how long they had spent in the probationary
stages which had earlier been demanded. We can imagine more easily what a
trump card this flood of new members could be for manipulating cells and
responsible party organisms at the hands of the apparatus and of the General
Secretary, when we remember that the recruitment based on the “Lenin Appeal”
was carried out in parallel with a purge that, this time, was aimed at the
supporters of the Opposition of the 46. We can understand how Molotov could
declare, in these conditions: “The development of the party in the future will,
without any doubt, be based on the Lenin Appeal” (1).

The Cult of Lenin Begins: the Suppression of the


The funeral speeches and articles set the tone for a new period. The Congress of
Soviets, which was in session at the time of Lenin ’s death, changed the name of
Petrograd, which became Leningrad. It made January 21 an annual day of
mourning. It decided to erect monuments to his memory in every city, to embalm
his body and place it in a mausoleum under the Kremlin walls, so that pilgrimages
could be made to the mummy The voice of Krupskaya alone was raised against
these decision, the semi-religious inspiration of which was surprising in

”Do not permit your mourning for Ilyich to take on forms of external
reverence for his person. Do not erect monuments. Do not give his name to
palaces. Do not organise ceremonies to his memory. He attached so little
importance to all that. All that so annoyed him. Remember the poverty …
that still exists in the country. If you want to honour the memory of Vladimir
Ilyich, build cr ches, kindergartens, houses, schools, libraries, medical
centres, hospitals, homes for invalids, and, especially, put his principles into

Zinoviev was promoted to the rank of High Priest and declared: “Lenin is dead,
Leninism lives”.(3). The Central Committee resolved to start a new journal, “The
Bolshevik”, intended to summarise “Leninism” systematically in simple
proposition which all could understand. None the less, the problem of Lenin ’s
testament still had to be settled, with Krupskaya believing that it should be
brought to the notice of the party in respect for the dead man ’s wishes. The
document was read on May 22 to a session of the Central Committee enlarged by
the attendance of the oldest party members; it there produced the effect of a
bomb. Zinoviev at once flew to the help of Stalin, whom the document, in the
atmosphere of adoration of the deceased, seemed to condemn beyond
forgiveness: he declared:
”Ilyich ’s last word is the highest law for us … but on one point at least the
fears of Lenin have shown themselves to be unfounded. I wish to speak of
that concerning our General Secretary. You have all witnessed our common
work during these last years and, like myself, have been happy to confirm
that the fears of Ilyich have not been realised.”(4)

With the support of Kamenev he proposed that Stalin be retained in the position
from which Lenin wished to remove him. No opposition was openly raised. The
natural consequence followed. Despite Krupskaya, who wanted the testament
read to the party congress, the Central Committee decided by some 30 votes to 10
to keep it secret and to communicate it only to the leaders of the delegations to
the congress. Trotsky remained silent from the beginning of the meeting to the
end: for years, his silence was to make him the accomplice of the falsifiers. For the
second time his abstention rescued Stalin and those who, in deifying Lenin and
concealing his last wishes, showed that maintaining themselves in power
dominated their other pre-occupations. In any case it sheds light on his
subsequent abstention: for Trotsky, the party remained the party and those who
led it had to be treated with respect, in the interests of the party itself, whatever
might be their vagaries.

The Thirteenth Congress

With the danger of the testament out of the way, the Thirteenth Congress,
opening on May 23, was to be for those who had won the day a repetition on a
larger scale of the Thirteenth Conference, and with greater lustre. First Zinoviev
touched on the question of the struggle about the new course in a long opening
speech, which levelled a new charge against the Opposition, in a self-glorification
of the leaders who had surmounted the crisis and defeated the manoeuvre aimed
at weakening the party through the Central Committee. No doubt drawing
encouragement from Trotsky ’s silence over the business of the testament, he
declared that the controversy had shown that it was “now a thousand times more
necessary than ever that the party be monolithic”. He returned to the indictment
of Trotsky and went so far as to demand from the Opposition a public retraction
and recognition of its errors: “The most sensitive course, that most worthy of a
Bolshevik, which the Opposition could .take would be to come to the platform of
the Congress and say, ‘I have made a mistake and the party was right ’”(5).

This pretention was without precedent in Bolshevik history and roused some
feeling among the delegates. Krupskaya, whose moral authority as the widow and
collaborator of Lenin was high, was to take the floor to say that it was
“psychologically unacceptable”. She was to give Trotsky the opportunity for a
simple, dignified reply, which has of ten been misinterpreted by historians in an
opposite direction in their desire to find in it something more than a declaration
by a disciplined party member:

”Nothing could be easier that to state in front of the party: ‘All my criticisms,
and all my declarations, all my warnings, all my protests, all that was nothing
but a mistake from beginning to end ’. But, comrades, I do not think so …
The English have a saying: ‘My Country, right or wrong! ’. We can say, with
much greater justification: whether it be right or wrong, on certain questions
or at certain moments, it is my party.”

He repeated what had already impregnated the pages of “The New Course”:

”In the last resort, the party is always right, because it is the unique historical
instrument which the working class possesses to resolve its problems … One
can be correct only with the party and through it, because history has not yet
created any another means by which to be correct” (6).

Defeated, he submitted, but he did not despair of convincing. In fact, he

maintained that he was correct, and, when he took up all the arguments which
had been developed before the Thirteenth Conference, he none the less was
careful to distinguish himself from the 46, by making clear that he was opposed to
groups in the party, because it would be difficult not to identify them with
fractions. Preobrazhensky also was to speak, in protest against the fact that the
purge had especially been aimed at the Opposition, and to question (as Trotsky
had not done) the use by the Central Committee of the success of the “Lenin
Appeal”: “It reveals an inadmissible optimism to claim that this entry of workers
into the party confirms and approves everything that we have done in matters of
internal policy, including the bureaucratic perversions” (7).

In a number of resolutions the Congress approved the decisions of the Thirteenth

Conference and the line of the Central Committee. It repeated the condemnation
of the Opposition, which “The Bolshevik” was to attack again a few days later for
“internal semi-Menshevism, a quarter of Menshevism, a thousand times more
dangerous than 100, Menshevism, the real Menshevism”, at a moment when
“100% Bolshevik unity” was necessary (8).

The “Bolshevisation” of the International

According to official history, it was in 1924 that the International was

“Bolshevised”. Between 1919 and 1921 it had been constructed on the perspective
of immediate revolutionary struggles, which could lead in a short time to the
seizure of power in several lands. In this way are to be explained the twenty-one
conditions imposed on parties for their membership, and the constitution, which
envisaged making it a centralised world party, an “international Bolshevik party”.
Lenin alone was anxious about this Russification: this organisation, artificially
imposed on parties which had neither the experience nor the tradition of the
Russian revolutionaries, risked retarding their development. The delegates to the
Third Congress did not follow him, any more than they followed him at the
Second Congress, when he proposed to base the Executive in Berlin, in order to
reduce the influence of the Russian leadership, and recalled the excessive
influence of the German socialists in the Second International.
In fact, even during his lifetime, the opposite prevailed. The Communist parties,
small sects like the British party or large parties of a social-democratic type like
the Italian or the French parties, had neither the experience of struggle nor the
leaders capable of standing up to the Russian leaders. The German Communist
Party after the assassination of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, was divided into
several violently opposed tendencies. Its former secretary, Paul Levi, was
excluded in 1921, for having publicly condemned the insurrectional action in
March. Lenin did his utmost to retain him in the party in order to avoid the split
and, after his exclusion, wrote to the German Communists that he had “only lost
his head” (9).

But the concern to educate and to effect agreement disappeared with Lenin from
the International. Zinoviev was to make the Communist parties servile
organisations, entirely dependent on the Executive, on the pretext of
“Bolshevising” them. Alfred Rosmer writes as a witness and a participant: “By
means of emissaries whom he sent to all the sections, he suppressed all
opposition before the Congress. Wherever resistance showed itself, the most
varied methods were used to break it down; it was a war of attrition, in which the
workers were defeated in advance by the functionaries, who had all the time in
the world and imposed interminable discussions; for the sake of peace, all who
had permitted themselves to criticise and who were worn down by the weight of
the International either provisionally gave way or took themselves away” (10).

After Trotsky was defeated, all those who had defended him were punished. Boris
Suvorin, one of the founders of Communism in France, was put out of the
leadership and then out of the party, for having translated and published “The
New Course”. Brandler was held solely responsible for the defeat in Germany and
was removed from the leadership of the German Communist Party. The Polish
Communists, Warski, Walecki and Wera Kostrzewa were removed for having
protested against the attacks on Trotsky. At the Fifth Congress Zinoviev promised
to “break their backs”. In a reply to Stalin on July 3, 1924, Wera Kostrzewa
advanced the charge: “We are against the creation inside the party of an
atmosphere of permanent conflict, of tension and of rancour between one and
another … I am convinced that with your system you are going to discredit all the
party leaders, one after another, and I fear that at the decisive moment the
proletariat will no longer have tested people at its head. The leadership of the
revolution could fall into the hands of adventurers, of those who “cook spicy
dishes” and of careerists” (11).

But the tone was set at the Fifth Congress by another militant, the young German
Ruth Fischer. She was eloquent and enthusiastic, but without any experience of
the class-struggle, the companion of Maslov, a German militant of Russian origin,
the spokesman of the Left in 1923. Zinoviev imposed her at the head of the
German Communist Party, in the place of the Old Guard of the militants of the
Spartacus League, who were condemned as “right-wingers”. Ruth Fischer was
the incarnation of the “Bolshevisation” tendency. She denounced Trotsky, Radek
and Brandler as “Menshevik liquidators” and called for the International to be
transformed into “a world Bolshevik party”, a monolith from which all tendency
struggles would be excluded. In fact this programme was already three-quarters
realised. The definitive subordination of the Communist parties to Moscow was
possible only because this Bolshevik party retained in the eyes of the advanced
workers the revolutionary prestige of victory in the October Revolution. Wera
Kostrzewa expressed the feeling of many Communists when, at the end of her
intervention, she told Zinoviev and Stalin: “You know that we cannot fight against
you. If tomorrow you were to call on the Polish workers to choose between us
and the Communist International, you know very well that we would be the first
to tell them to follow you” (12). The pseudo-Bolshevisation killed off independent
Communist critical spirit and thought. It thereby destroyed every chance of
making the parties of the International into parties capable of playing the role
which the Bolshevik party played in Russia.

The “Lessons of October” and the Second Campaign

against Trotsky

Though as a disciplined militant Trotsky accepted that he must submit and be

silent, he continued to be a source of anxiety to the troika . “The Bolshevik” of
Jane 5, 1924, did not conceal its irritation at the “elastic speech” he made at the
Thirteenth Congress. At the same time, it had no interest in provoking him and,
from the moment when he accepted silence on the essential political problems, it
sought to avoid doing so. However, Trotsky was not prepared to let himself be
buried under slanders. An opportunity to express himself was offered by the
publication, projected long before, of Volume III of his “Writings and Speeches”,
by the State Publishing House, devoted precisely to the year 1917. These
documents were obviously irrefutable in themselves. They gave to Trotsky the
place which was his in the course of the revolution, first after Lenin, as he freely
admitted, if not first with him. But for the militant and the un-repentant fighter
history has no value if it is not understood and analysed, and if it does not serve as
an instrument for changing the world. Trotsky was to introduce the third volume
of his works with a study as big as a thick pamphlet; in it he deals with the lessons
which appeared to him to be essential, in relation to October 1917, and brings
together the principal ideas about the role of the party in the course of the
revolution which he defended many times and particularly in the course of 1923.
He intended to use the solid, irrefutable basis provided by the past, which the
documents published by the State Publishing House supplied to him, as a spring-
board by means of which the whole party could gain an understanding of the
stage which was hardly beginning, for the future.(13)

The closely-written pages of the preface, entitled “The Lessons of October”,

painted first a general picture of the history of the Bolshevik Party. Trotsky
distinguished three periods in it: the preparatory period before 1917, the
revolutionary period of 1917, and the post-revolutionary period. Of the three, the
second is evidently the epoch which he regards as decisive—and this is not merely
because Trotsky was the incarnation of Bolshevism in it, as the then-current
description of Bolshevism as “the party of Lenin and Trotsky” establishes. The
second period was the test par excellence of the party, its historic justification.
And the history as it emerged from the documents, writings and speeches of
Trotsky, as from those of anyone else, reveals two crises within the party in the
course of 1917: that of April, when the majority of the cadres of Bolshevism,
having moved towards conciliation with the Mensheviks and adaptation to a
democratic republic, reared up under the blows which Lenin dealt them, as he
spelt out the new orientation, with the support of the workers ’ vanguard—and
that of October, when Zinoviev, Kamenev and part of the Bolshevik general staff
submitted to Lenin only because he was able to win the assent of the broad
masses and to demonstrate to them by action and success that his point of view
was correct. The “lesson” is an important one: it is the authority of Lenin and his
sense of deep social movements which alone could dispose, at the time of the
decisive test, of that Bolshevik Old Guard which in 1923 claimed to be the guardian
of the tradition. Trotsky stresses that neither Zinoviev nor Kamenev had the
slightest title to claim “Leninism” as theirs, to the extent that, in the course of
decisive events, and especially on the eve of the seizure of power, (this wall when
one sees the revolutionary builder), they took their position against Lenin, whom
Trotsky, whose past was not a Bolshevik one, supported without reservation.

He passed from October 1917 to October 1923, and outlined the situation in
Germany in the preceding year, and the hesitations of the German Communist
Party, which let the favourable moment pass and collapsed without a fight. The
German October confirmed negatively what the Russian October had
demonstrated positively. It was the same party leaders who had responsibility for
the International, of which Zinoviev was the president, and with it for the set-back
of the German Revolution. When they should have made a turn and marched
boldly to power, they had experienced the same conservative reflex as six years
earlier in Russia. The German working class, in a favourable objective situation,
had a Communist party, but it did not have, either at the national or the
international level, a leadership of the stature of that of Lenin. That was why it
was defeated.

The attack was devastating. It was thoroughly buttressed by contemporary

history and reality and solid enough to stand up to any test. However, it placed
the accent on the role of the leadership, at the highest level, thereby minimising
the role of the party itself in the eyes of many militants. In the end, with its replies
to the “revelations” of the troika about Trotsky ’s Menshevik past by what was
really a “revelation” of the “conciliatory” past of Zinoviev and Kamenev, it gave
the impression of a personal squabble, a display of dirty linen, which in the end
would help to discredit all the protagonists thus desperately trying to demolish
the others ’ legens about being iron Bolsheviks and faithful lieutenants of Lenin.

Pravda announced the publication of the book, with its un-published preface, on
October 12. Peter and Irene Sorlin have stressed, in their meticulous examination
of the press that it was not until November 2 that an article entitled “How not to
write the history of October” mentioned again the book which every militant
knew. From November 12 onwards the journals were filled with letters and
motions of protest from local organisations. One may well believe that they were
in response to instructions from the apparatus, which fully explains why there
were so many, why they all appeared simultaneously as well as the interval before
their appearance, which cannot be explained in any other way.

In any case, the campaign which broke out was to be one of extraordinary
violence. We will content ourselves with a list summarising the articles devoted to
the preface in these few weeks by the leaders: on November 18, there was
“Leninism or Trotskyism”, by Kamenev (14); on November 19, there was
“Trotskyism or Leninism” by Stalin (15); on November 30, there was “Bolshevism
or Trotskyism”, by Zinoviev (16). All of these articles charged Trotsky with
“revisionism” and “trying to “liquidate Leninism”. Then came the articles against
the “permanent revolution”; Kamenev again on December 10, Bukharin on the
12th, Stalin on the 20th (one of his first incursions into theory), which concluded,
in his own peculiar style: “It is not with honeyed speeches and rotten diplomacy
that the yawning gulf between the theory of the “permanent revolution” and
Leninism can be concealed.”

These were the big guns. But Trotsky became a target from all sides, with the
sustained fire made possible by control of the press by the apparatus, the
systematic use of all the documents existing in the archives, exhumation from
polemics of the past, of which there was no shortage, and exhibition of their most
rutting passages without explanation and out of context. The reader of Pravda
was to learn that Lenin treated Trotsky as a “pig” at the same moment as Trotsky
was confiding his grievances against Lenin to the Menshevik Chkheidze. Well-
chosen texts and well-cut-out quotations could give the impression that Trotsky
was always an anti-Bolshevik and the irreconcilable adversary of Lenin. Even those
who had not forgotten 1917 could yield under the pressure of these lines. It
mattered little that Zinoviev and Kamenev had been treated as “yellow” and
Stalin as a “prison screw”, because the first statement was not repeated and the
second was unknown. The ordinary party member, for whom 1917 in the best case
was only a glorious legend, admitted, sometimes not without bitterness, the role
of the wicked Trotsky, without really believing in the virtues of the worthy
Zinoviev. In the troika Stalin was spattered least, because his minor role before
and during 1917 enabled him to escape the discredit which was the lot of the
former protagonists.

At the end of the civil war, Lenin had definitively rehabilitated Zinoviev and
Kamenev—or so he thought—when he wrote in “Communist International”:
“Immediately before the October Revolution and immediately after it a certain
number of excellent Communists in Russia committed a mistake which no one
would be willing to mention today. Why? Because, if it is not absolutely necessary,
it is a mistake to repeat mistakes which have been completely corrected” (17). One
single voice was raised in 1924 to get a hearing for a viewpoint filled with concern
to conserve all the precious cadres, which had led Lenin himself both to welcome
as his equal this “pig” Trotsky and to retain at his side the “yellow” Zinoviev and
Kamenev. Krupskaya said in fact on December 16 that “she does not know
whether Trotsky is guilty of all the mortal sins of which he is accused, not without
polemical intent”; she reminded of his real role in 1917 and what the party owed
him, but ended saying “when a comrade like Trotsky take, perhaps unconsciously,
the road of revising Leninism, the party has its word to say” (18). A letter from
Trotsky, published in Pravda on December 20, pointed out that his book was
simply the development of ideas which had frequently been expressed by him
earlier and which had never brought down such attacks upon him (19).

At columns ’ length the secretariat, through all the committees, schools,

instructors and propagandists, fabricated “Trotskyism”. All the time Trotsky had
under-estimated the role of the party and, since 1903, had defended conceptions
which undermined its foundations and made him the “spokesman of petty-
bourgeois influences”. At the same time, he had always under-estimated the
peasantry and defended a policy which risked breaking the alliance between
workers and peasants. All his disagreements with Lenin in the past, on the pre-
war party, on Brest-Litovsk, on the trade unions, were explained by these vicious
beliefs. It was due to these same deviations that he advocated planning, the
method of the autocrat, industrialisation to the detriment of the peasants, and
that he worked to destroy from within the leadership which had unmasked him.
Developed in this way, “Leninism” became no more than an alibi to justify the
current policy, the iron hand in the party and the concessions to the peasants.

The party had to be educated. A resolution of the Central Committee on January

17, 1925 decided to “continue the work of un-veiling the anti-Bolshevik character
of Trotskyism” and “introducing into the programmes of political education the
explanation of its anti-Bolshevik character” (20). The revision of history itself was
near. For the present, Trotsky was warned that, having by his attacks given to
“anti-Soviet elements, vacillating elements” the “signal for regroupment against
the policy of the party”, “if he belonged to the Bolshevik Party an effective
subordination was required, and not merely a verbal submission to discipline, and
a total, un-conditional renunciation of all struggle against Leninism”, in other
words, all opposition. His place was no longer at the War Commissariat and in the
Revolutionary War Committee: at his request, he had been relieved of these
functions. Nothing but the opposition of Stalin, who was always circumspect vis-a-
vis his allies, prevented Zinoviev and Kamenev from obtaining Trotsky ’s exclusion
from the party. The young Communists of Leningrad were demanding it at the
tops of their voices.

The Difficulties of the N.E.P.

The elimination of Trotsky from the government in 1925 was in sum only the final
result of the defeat of the Opposition in 1923. But new difficulties were to
provoke new conflicts. In 1923 and 1924 the leadership had maintained the New
Economic Policy; it was in the development of its consequences that the root of
the new oppositions is to be found.
In 1925 Russia had certainly emerged from the period of crisis which had reached
its peak in summer 1923. The country was at work, the fields were being
cultivated, the factory wheels were turning, the trains were running and trade
was busy. None the less, there can be no illusions. Agriculture was still as
backward as ever. No heavy industry had really been re-established into work. The
prosperity of private trade did not conceal the low level of life generally to which
its contributed, because the 900 million roubles invested in private commerce
earned 400 millions annually in interest. The class struggle continued. The
peasant, to be sure, and his family, had enough to eat, but they were practically
deprived of all industrial products, the prices of which were twice those of pre-
war, while peasant production brought in as much as before, but allo the worker
earned and ate less than before the war.

Social oppositions were drawn in the cities between the recently-enriched trades
and nepmen on the one hand, the Red administrators and specialists, and, on the
other hand, the workers, but these oppositions were not less in the countryside.
Some 3—4%, of the peasants, the kulaks, the well-situated peasants, were the real
beneficiaries of the Nep and the reappearance of the market. They occupied one-
half of the sown land and 60% of the farm machinery. They alone profitted from
the sale of the surplus of their crop. of the richest kulaks supplied 60 of the
products which reached the market.

The difference was deepening between the kulaks and the small or middle
peasants, who depended on them: in fact, it was to the kulaks that 75% of the 7.7
million hectares of land belonged, which were illegally rented by small or middle
peasants seeking other resources. It was the kulaks who employed the 3.5 million
agricultural wage-earners and the 1,600,000 day labourers, who received pay
nearly 40% less than what the great landed proprietors paid before the war (21).
The poor peasant was crushed by debt as always. He paid four times as much in
interest as in taxes, and depended so entirely on the kulak that the party, for fear
of the reactions of the kulaks, obstructed or prohibited the formation of unions of
Door peasants which had been one of the central points of the policy of War
Communism. The most serious consequence of the rise in the power of the kulaks
was that they could now definitely influence the market. They could threaten all
economic equilibrium by slowing down or cutting off the delivery of their surplus,
as they pleased. The immediate interests of the kulaks, or, if we prefer, their
capitalist tendencies, risked at every moment provoking a clash with the regime
or, at least, forcing it to retreat. In 1925 the fall in food deliveries provoked a crisis
of the food supply. It obliged the government to halt grain exports and to cancel
orders for machinery and raw materials intended for industry, for lack of the
means to pay for them. In this way the kulak slowed industrialisation down,
subordinating it to their own requirements. No one thought of going back to the
methods of War Communism. None the less the question was posed: must
industrialisation depend exclusively on the satisfaction of the demands of the
better-off peasants?
This, among others, was to be the theme of a high-level theoretical debate
between two of the most distinguished minds and the most brilliant economists
of the party, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, the former co-authors of the “A.B.C.
of Communism”, former Left Communists, whose opinions since 1923 were widely

The Theses of Preobrazhensky

The work of Eugene Preobrazhensky is still practically unknown today. Only the
first volume of his great work, “The New Economics”, has appeared, and it was
never translated from Russian before being pulped. None the less, it represented
an initiative of the greatest interest. The analyses and conclusions which it
presented provided the bases for any study of the development of an economy of
the socialist type in an under-developed country, because the ambition of the
researcher and scholar Preobrazhensky led him to try to apply the “categories” of
Capital to the Soviet economy.

His analysis started from the situation of Soviet economy, where a workers ’ state,
leading nationalised industry, was striving to develop a modern economy in the
framework of a backward country. In general terms, he thought that the victory
of the revolution in a back- ward, isolated country, or even in a group of countries
which have not reached their maximum economic development, such as the
United States, creates an extremely critical situation, because, after the
revolution, the country loses the advantage which the capitalist system offers for
its economic development, without having the immediate possibility of taking
advantage of the benefits of the socialist system, because its bases do not yet
exist. It is in this way that the middle peasant, and especially the kulak, can take
the liberty of cutting down their deliveries and of increasing their loans to small
peasants or their personal consumption, to the extent that industry does not
offer to them except at prohibitive prices the products which can induce them to
sell. This “period of transition” is extremely dangerous, because the country
which has made its revolution finds itself in a position of inferiority to “monopoly
capitalism”. This is how Russia sees its market tied to technologically backward
industry, while it cells its agricultural products at the world market price, paying
twice for what it saves for purposes of investment. He regarded this period,
therefore, as “the most critical period in the development of the socialist State”.
He declared: “It is a question of life or death for us to get through this period of
transition as quickly as possible, in order to reach the point at which the socialist
system gives us all its advantages” (22): in the face of the danger of an alliance
between the Russian kulak and international capitalism, he observes that the
Russians were constructing socialism “in a lull between two battles”.

Therefore the task of the economist was to analyse the laws of economic
development in the transition period, laws which are “objective forces”
comparable to the economic laws which govern capitalism and which can
function independently of the consciousness which men have of them, as the
expression of the system. The first law is that, in order to fight against monopoly-
capitalism, the socialist system must practice “socialist monopolism”, in the form
of an extreme concentration of state economic authority over industry and
external trade. In Russia, this law is imposed by the absolute necessity to end rural
over-population, which in fact makes possible the blackmail which the kulaks are
able to exercise on the state by boycotting industry, as well as by the absolute
necessity to create, by the equipment of the country, that “new technological
base”, which alone can make possible a development of the whole economy. It
makes necessary “the concentration of all the large-scale industries of the country
in the hands of a single trust, i.e. the workers ’ state” (23), in order to carry on, on
the basis of its monopoly, a price-policy which enables it to impose “another form
of taxation on private production”. This monopolism will inevitably have to be
accepted, whatever may be the reservations of the leaders about it: “The
structure of our nationalised economy today of ten shows itself to be more
progressive than our system of economic leadership” (24). Despite their
resistances, the development of the productive forces through the agency of
monopolistic state industry was to take place under what Preobrazhensky calls
“the law of primitive socialist accumulation”: “We live under the iron heel of the
law of primitive socialist accumulation” (25)

The term had been borrowed by Preobrazhensky from Sapronov and already
been used by Trotsky in 1922. In a way it became the keystone of a system of ideas
which were attributed to Preobrazhensky and has never been exactly
understood. When it is used with reference to the “primitive capitalist
accumulation” of which Marx described the workings i, the early period of the
capitalist system, it means that a backward country cannot industrialise quickly by
means of the resources of state industry alone, but must resort to accumulation
obtained at the expense of funds normally devoted to wages and to the profits of
the private sector. Consequently “the law of primitive socialist accumulation”
obliges the workers ’ state to “exploit” the peasantry—in the economic sense of
the term—by paying less than the value of the products, to give priority to heavy
industry in the plans and, contrary to what would happen during the socialist
period of the future, to manage the economy from the point of view, not of the
consumer, but of the producer.

Of course, the functioning of the law in the transition period—the duration of

which Preobrazhensky estimate to be twenty years in the case of the victory of
the revolution in Western Europe—brought with it consequences in contradiction
to the general trend of the development. The “exploitation” of the peasantry,
showing that the incomes of the peasants inevitably grow more slowly than those
of other wage-earners, cannot fail to provoke a political opposition, which must
be overcome by the development of co-operative productive units and an
attractive ???? policy. The centralisation of the economy would result in the
creation of an enormous “monopolistic” apparatus, with parasitic tendencies.
This in its turn would play the role of a brake on the general development. It
would create a layer of privileged people, administratora and technicians raising
themselves socially above the working people. In a general way the transition
economy generated social inequality, because privileges would definitively
disappear only when the productive forces had reached their maximum
development and all distinction between manual and intellectual work
disappeared. Marxists who were conscious of the objective laws” must hasten
this development through the political activity of the party, the organisation of
the working class. In Preobrazhensky the scholar and the economist gave way to
the politician, the militant, the leader of the Opposition, and stressed that the
parasitic tendencies of the monopolistic apparatus and the predominance of the
viewpoint of the producer, acting with their own weight, must be corrected by
the activity of workers operating from the viewpoint of the consumer. Obviously
this pre-supposes that ‘real workers ’ democracy exists and that means to defend
themselves against the state are guaranteed to workers. In a more general way,
the general body of the contradictions led Preobrazhensky to conclude: “Our
development towards socialism is confronted by the necessity to put an end to
our socialist isolation, for reasons which are not only political but are economic,
and to seek in the future a source of support in the material resources of other
socialist countries” (26).

The viewpoint of Bukharin

Bukharin was to be the principal adversary of the thesis of Preobrazhensky. He

described as generally “monstrous” what was claimed to be the “law of primitive
socialist accumulation”, which justified the exploitation of the peasants,
endangered the alliance of the workers and the peasants and served only, in his
opinion, to justify, through the centralisation of the economic apparatus of the
state, the appearance, out of the proletariat, of a new class of exploiters. The fact
is that the former prophet of the European Revolution had, as he admitted, lost
some of his illusions when war communism failed. Deutscher says that he had a
shock when he discovered that “Bolshevism remained alone with the Russian
peasantry”, and that he turned towards the peasants “with the same fervour, the
same hope and the same capacity for idealisation with which hitherto he had
regarded the European proletariat” (27). This attractive explanation no doubt
describes Bukharin ’s manner of existence. But his profound motives had their
root in an analysis which we can counter-pose near point by point to that of
Preobrazhensky. The two men did not refrain from doing so.

In Bukharin ’s eyes, the failure of war communism taught a hard lesson. As Ehrlich
says in his summary of Bukharin ’s thought, it is better “to rear the geese that lay
golden eggs rather than kill them” … “The significance of Nep lay in utilising the
economic initiative of the peasants, of the petty bourgeoisie and even the
bourgeoisie and, consequently, in tolerating private accumulation. By doing so we
place them objectively in the service of socialist state industry and of the
economy as a whole.” (28). The totalitarian conception of planning had been
condemned along with war communism. From that time onwards “we occupy the
posts of command and hold firmly to the key-positions; then our state economy,
by different roads and sometimes even in competition with what remains of
private capital, continues to become stronger and gradually absorbs the
backward economic units—a process which essentially takes place through the
market” (29).

In order to develop industry, it is necessary first of all to bring industrial prices

down. This would offer the double advantage of preventing “monopolistic gains”
and of obliging the Red industrialists to raise the productivity of their enterprises,
while they sample the attractions again of the market. The rising demand from
the peasants must be the driving force of this re-animation, but will be possible
only if the peasants themselves are able to inc ease their incomes and to invest,
which is prevented by the restrictions imposed on them by the Soviet state: “The
wealthier layer of the peasantry and the middle peasants who want to become
wealthier today are afraid of accumulating . A situation is created in which a
peasant is afraid of covering his dwelling with a metal roof because he is afraid of
being labelled as a kulak. If he buys a machine, he arranges to conceal it from the
Communists … The better-off peasant is discontented because we do not let him
accumulate or to hire wage-labour: on the other hand, the poor peasants who
suffer from the rural over-population grumble because they are not allowed to
hire themselves out” (30). Bukharin therefore argued that all the restrictions
which weighed on the peasants should be lifted, because socialism would
convince the peasants only if it had an attraction for them and seemed to them to
be economically advantageous. Co- operation would be the bridge towards
collective farms and socialism in agriculture, but it should be introduced prudently
and at first limited to “the sphere of circulation”.

The enrichment of the peasant, the condition for the recovery of industry and for
economic development, evidently carries with it the risk that there would develop
in Russia a social class which would be the last vestige of capitalism. But the
workers ’ state would be able, by means of the levers of command, to harmonise
the gradual development and regulate it by a progressive, direct tax, and
especially to integrate the peasants, step by step, up to the kulaks, in the general
development, because, said Bukharin:

”To the extent that we are in rags, the kulak can defeat us on the economic field.
But he will not do so if we let him deposit his savings in our banks. We will help
him but he will help us” (31). In a long perspective - Bukharin spoke about the
“kulak ’s grandchild” - the peasant world will level up socially and would pass to
collective exploitation and a higher technological level, when the kulak would die
out of ‘euthanasia ’, as Ehrlich says.

Bukharin started from premises totally opposed to those of Preobrazhensky, from

the primacy of the problems of consumption and of the market, the reduction in
industrial prices. he ended with an equally opposed conclusion, “the construction
of socialism on a low technological base”: “We must advance by very small, very
small steps, dragging our great peasant cart behind us” (32). By a strange irony,
this brilliant disciple of Marx re-discovered the tradition of populism through his
study of the problems of the period of transition. Turning his back on the illusions
of his youth, he replied to Preobrazhensky that the world-wide victory of the
revolution would not pose the problem otherwise than in the “Russian” terms on
the world scale, and that his more or less lengthy perspective must not influence
the determination of the policy of the party. Above all, in the antagonism
between cities and the country which was rising again in the spring of 1925 in a
sharp form, he presented himself as the defender and, in a certain way, the
spokesman of the peasants, fearing that the conditions of social equilibrium
necessary in his eyes to economic development could be destroyed.

This came out clearly in the celebrated lecture which he delivered in the Bolshoi
theatre in Moscow on April 17, in which, after summarising his favourite
arguments about the progress of peasant accumulation, he declared: “To the
peasants, to all the peasants, we must say: ‘Enrich yourselves; develop your farms;
do not fear that constraint will be imposed on you. ’ Paradoxical as this may seem,
we need to develop the better-off peasant in order to help the poor and the
middle peasants.” (33). These words produced a scandal. He was to withdraw
them formally, but that made no difference to the basis of his thought. His pupils,
the group of the Institute of Red Professors, Stetski, who had suggested, from
the same standpoint, that the monopoly of foreign trade should be abandoned,
Boguchevski, who declared that from then on the kulak “is a decrepit social type
of which few specimens only survive”, Slepkov, who spoke of an enlargement of
the Nep into a “Neo-Nep ” , were warned to be more prudent. But the Fourteenth
Conference, while it criticised their excessive formulations, adopted the road
which they had outlined, when it authorised the leasing of land and the
employment of wage-labour and included in its programme, credits for
agricultural machinery, reduction of industrial prices, abolition of controls on the
prices of agricultural products and a reduction in the land tax. It seemed that the
countryside and the richer peasants had triumphed. The reaction was now to
come from a great city—Leningrad.

The Birth of the “New Opposition”

Leningrad—the St. Petersburg of the old days—had since the time of the Ts rs
been the fortress of the modern industrial proletariat. It had provided the
majority of the worker militants who had been the heart of the party in 1917 and
then had led the Soviets throughout the country and formed the political
framework of the Red Army. Of course, the Leningrad party organisation cannot
be compared with that of Petrograd in 1917—18, if only because of the role which
its members had played, and in which their blood had been shed. None the less,
the Leningrad party organisation retained original characteristics, which explain
its intervention in 1925. At that date, out of 50,000 members and 40,000
candidates for membership in the province, 72% were workers and only 11% were
officials. Nowhere else was the proportion of workers in the party so high.
Moreover, 36% of them were metal-workers, traditionally the most advanced
sector. It is, therefore, not surprising that Bukharin ’s theories aroused sharp
opposition there. The engineering factories and naval shipyards were closed.
There were several tens of thousands of unemployed, for whom industrialisation,
and rapid industrialisation were a question of life and death, and who were not

to accept (according to the excellent summary by Deutscher) the thesis according

to which it would be the mujik who determined the speed of industrial
reconstruction, which would be “at a tortoise ’s pace”.

Of course, the party was controlled by Zinoviev. His hard fist is well known and in
1923 had been quickly used to crush the opposition. But the “activists” of
Leningrad themselves were aware of the discontent of the workers whom they
had in their control. They had been exalted in official propaganda; they were
proud of being the successors of the spear-head of the Bolshevik Party, of being
the vanguard of the Commune of the North and were in the clouds with delight at
their victory over the Opposition. They could hardly accept calmly a line which
definitively minimised their present and future role and which undermined the
very basis of their authority and made them the prisoners of the discontent of
those whom they administered. In September the Old Bolshevik Zalutski,
secretary of the party committee in the Leningrad province, gave a speech (soon
reproduced in a pamphlet) in which he voiced the disappointment of the workers,
who were asking whether it really was a proletarian revolution which had
triumphed in October. He spoke of Thermidor by analogy with the French
Revolution and of “degeneration” coming from within the very heart of the party
’s strength. He drew a comparison between Stalin and Bebel, the Pope of German
Social-Democracy, the incarnation, like him, of the apparatus and the arbitrator of
the conflicts between leftists and revisionists. Against the new right represented
by Bukharin and his friends in the Institute of Red Professors, a new left appeared,
distinct from the 1923 Opposition, little acquainted with the theoretical positions
and scientific studies of Preobrazhensky, but undoubtedly linked to a proletarian
layer in the party.

In reality Zalutski counted by himself for nothing. He was Zinoviev ’s man, and had
not acted on his own initiative. He gave way to the pressure at the base of his
organisation, to be sure, but with the approval of his “patron”. His speech was
the first public symptom of the breach which was coming for months between
the triumvirs.

At the end of 1924 the General Secretary was already trying to reduce the
exclusive hold which his partners, Zinoviev and Kamenev, exerted over the
respective organisations of their fiefs of Leningrad and Moscow. The Moscow
secretary, Zelenski, was moved to Central Asia and replaced by Uglanov, who was
brought from Nijni Novgorod. Most historians agree in thinking that only Trotsky
’s attack in “The Lessons of October” triumvirate kept together the when it was
on the point of breaking apart and forced Zinoviev and Kamenev to defer until
later the counter-offensive against what without doubt was a trespass into their
reserved domain. Anyway, without making a lot of noise, Uglanov could take
advantage of this enforced respite to “re-organise” the regional apparatus and to
place reliable men in various branches: the ill-feeling which was still strong against
the bureaucrats who had crushed the Moscow Opposition at the time of the
discussion on “The New Course” unquestionably made his task easier. In Moscow
the purge of the purgers took place under the eye of jeering former
oppositionists, who saw in it a proper turn of things.

The first more serious conflict took place during 1925, when Stalin, supported by
the majority, refused the proposal of Zinoviev and Kamenev to exclude Trotsky
from the Politburo. Zinoviev went so far as to accuse Stalin of being “half a
Trotsky-ist”. The Young Communist organisation in Leningrad started a campaign
against both Trotsky and the national leadership, and this ended when the adult in
charge of the organisation was removed (Safarov). In the International, which
Zinoviev controlled, other conflicts were ripening. In Germany, Stalin was
supporting Thaelmann, who wanted a Communist candidate in the presidential
elections, at all costs, against Maslov and Fischer, protégés of Zinoviev, who
wanted a joint candidature with the Social-Democrats. Maslov and Fischer were
beaten and removed from the leadership. Control of the International seemed to
be slipping out of Zinoviev ’s hands.

Occasions for conflict multiplied from Spring 1925 onwards. At the Politburo
Zinoviev and Kamenev opposed the suggestion to present at the Fourteenth
Conference a resolution, drafted by Stalin, asserting, against Trotsky ’s
“Permanent Revolution”, the possibility of “building Socialism in a Single
Country”. A compromise was reached. But the economic crisis provided new
occasions for friction. Zinoviev and Kamenev openly criticised the line which
Bukharin defended. It seems likely that the most right-ist formulations were
dropped under their pressure.

The debate did not become public and was not officially recognised, but Zinoviev
touched upon it in speeches and pamphlets. In September 1925 he published a
large collection entitled “Leninism”. Some hundreds of pages were devoted to
“Trotskyism” and the usual charges, after which he examined the problems which
the Nep posed. He was clever enough to begin from a recent book by the White
émigré Ustryalov, the book about which Lenin said that it pointed out to the
Bolsheviks the dangers which threatened them by telling “its class-truth”. The
book was entitled “Under the sign of the Revolution” and was published in
Manchuria. Ustryalov analysed the situation in Russia “where, among all the
people, who are renewed, but are also wearied by the storm, a wish for peace, for
work and for submission has revived”. He wrote: “Land-owners, Enrich
yourselves! A Slogan of Life, a Slogan of Return to Health!”, and concluded: “The
slogan of growth and individualism is healthy like the working countryside, it is as
inevitable as life and as imperious as history” (34). The words of this clever “class
enemy” enabled Zinoviev to state that the main danger could come from “the un-
settlement of the dictatorship of the proletariat by the petty bourgeois and anti-
proletarian influences which work on the state apparatus, on the economy and
even on the party” in a country where the population is predominately petty
bourgeois and capitalism is partly re-born, “the petty bourgeois and the new
bourgeoisie are bound by a thousand links to the international bourgeoisie” (35),
where the State is strongly marked with bureaucratism, where heavy industry has
not returned to its 1913 level, and all within the framework of capitalist

He then used many quotations from Lenin to analyse the Nep as a strategic retreat
in which the march to socialism takes place through the construction of a state
capitalism. Zinoviev stressed that “the class struggle continues under the
dictatorship and in particular under the Nep ”, especially in the countryside. There
could be no doubt on that point: “The kulaks are the enemies of the soviet
power”, infinitely more dangerous than the Nepmen , because "3% kulaks in the
countryside constitute an enormous force”. Here the attack is still more direct on
Bukharin and his disciples: “To try now to get people to believe that the kulak
does not exist, to throw phrases about, like “The Kulak is not dangerous”, is to
suggest … that … we no longer consider the kulak to be an enemy … “We must
not tolerate a shade of equivocation in this question of the kulak” (36). One
chapter consisting entirely of quotations from Lenin finally demonstrates the
invincible hostility of the founder of Bolshevism to the idea that socialism can be
realised in one country alone: it is necessary to fight against “the bourgeois and
petty bourgeois ideology related to the epoch of Nep and to the growth in well-
being of the country”, because it is contrary to the task of the Communists, which
is to consolidate the victory in their country and at the same time thus open the
road for the workers of other countries. (37)

On September 19 and 20, 1925, he published in Pravda an even sharper article,

despite the omissions on which the Politburo insisted, under the same form of a
polemic against Ustryalov, and entitled: “The Philosophy of an Epoch”. There he
asserted: “The development of the Nep , at the same time as the delay in the
world revolution, is pregnant with the danger of degeneration, among other
dangers”. He mentioned the workers ’ revolutionary struggle: “In the name of
what did the working class, and the great masses of the people behind it, rise up
in the great days of October? In the name of what did they follow Lenin into the
firing line? In the name of what did they follow our banner during the first years?
An the name of equality! … Today the mass of the people dream of equality …
That is the key to the philosophy of our epoch.” Thus, when he declared: “To be
the authentic spokesmen of the people, we must place ourselves at the head of
its struggle for equality” (38), Zinoviev gave clear notice that he was ready to
confront, as the spokesman of the workers, Bukharin who had made himself that
of the kulaks.

The Battle before the Fourteenth Congress ’ (December


At first the conflict was confined to groups in the party and concerned with the
theoretical position of Zinoviev. However, it quickly spread through the corridors
of the apparatus before breaking out into full daylight. After Zalutsky had stated
his position, he was relieved of his functions by the secretariat, which surprisingly
was supported by the regional committee. Stalin appointed one of his own people
in his place, a man called Komarov. The Zinovie group was seized by the throat in
its own fortress, and reacted: the regional committee rejected the candidate sent
from the secretariat, and Komarov himself asked for his appointment to be
cancelled, in view of the opposition which his nomination had aroused. In order to
avoid being caught by surprise again, Zinoviev undertook a severe purge of the
Leningrad apparatus, un-hesitatingly eliminating anyone who seemed to have
been won over by the secretariat. The leading characters were already
confronting each other. When Frunze, the Commissar for War, died, he was at one
replaced by Voroshilov, a supporter of Stalin, and Lashevich, a supporter of
Zinoviev, was attached to him as assistant. The battle became sharper at the
October meeting of the Central Committee. Each side accused the other of trying
to violate the decisions of the April Conference. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sokolnikov
and Krupskaya called for a public discussion on the peasant question. The majority
refused their request, contrary to the old traditions, but also in conformity with
the precedent which they had introduced against Trotsky. The conflict nearly
became public, when the Leningrad Pravda made repeated attacks about the
peasant question, while the Communist Youth published a “Blue Book” consisting
of articles by Bukharin, Stetski, Bogushevsky and others, with comments,
illustrating what the Youth regarded as “the kulak deviation”.

In fact, the members of the troika were fighting through intermediaries. The press
and meetings in Leningrad and Moscow were hurling accusations at each others ’
heads, and motions of censure. Each regional secretariat was hastening to
eliminate from posts of responsibility anyone suspected of being lukewarm about
its own theses. Leningrad declared that the party must ensure “the maximum
internal democracy”. Moscow replied ironically about what Leningrad meant by
that. Leningrad replied that Moscow were experts in the matter. Leningrad
proposed a massive recruitment of workers, up to the point where they formed
90% of the party. Was this really a serious effort to loosen the grip of the
apparatus? Moscow accused Leningrad of deviating from Leninism and wanting
to dissolve and weaken the vanguard. The declarations from Leningrad on “the
kulak danger” and about state capitalism, borrowed from Zinoviev, were
characterised by Moscow as “alienation, separatism, hysterical screaming and
lack of intellectual self-confidence”. Leningrad replied by referring loudly to its
proletarian character. Moscow, in turn, accused Leningrad of attacking the
apparatus, and of supporting Trotsky. Trotsky for his part remained silent
throughout, privately making fun of the spectacle provided by the two
organisations of the same workers ’ party, which always voted unanimously the
resolutions against each other, and could not offer the least opposition, however
isolated, in evidence of the democratic character of their discussions. For the
victors of yesterday, who now were ready to fight one another, possessed in
common the same confidence in effective “organisation” and the same “realism”.
This is the reason why, furthermore, we may rely on the version of Stalin,
according to which he offered a compromise on the eve of the Congress. This
would have opened to secretariat and the editorial bureau of Pravda to two
Leningraders. But Zinoviev refused: no doubt he thought that he had lost enough
at this game since the death of Lenin.

The Fourteenth Congress

Yet this was a strategic mistake, on the territory on which he had been engaged
since 1922 and where Stalin was waiting for him. There could be no surprise at the
Congress. Apart from the Leningrad delegation, tried and tested by Zinoviev ’s
apparatus, all the others had been chosen, in the same way, from among the
faithful backers of the secretariat. The outcome of the game was determined in
advance. Yet Stalin did not want a break. For the public benefit of opinion among
the “calm old men”, the break-up of unity and the initiative for the attack must
come from his opponents. It must be Zinoviev and Kamenev who let fly: then the
leadership team would carry on without them, to its great regret. From the
beginning, in Stalin ’s political report, he spoke of the questions in dispute without
mentioning names. He expressed the wish that agreement be reached. As he said,
in a desire for conciliation he would not even speak about the behaviour of the
Leningraders. But perhaps Zinoviev still had same faith in the value of
programmes and manifestoes. He was to open the battle in front of the delegates
even when no discussion had officially been opened. For this purpose, he asked
for, and received from the Congress, permission as a member of the Central
Committee and of the Politburo to present a political counter-report. This usage
had been frequent in the party in earlier times but had been applied only once
since 1918.

Since he was henceforth in a minority, he had to speak about the “workers ’

democracy” which he was to demand. He denounced the fact that “everything
should be chewed over by the Central Committee and fed ready into the party ’s
mouth”. He declared that one could not speak of democracy when all comrades
did not have the opportunity to speak. But, for him, this was a ground full of
snares. When he denounced the “state of semi-siege” in the party, the Congress
kicked up a row. Someone shouted: “And what about Trotsky?” He replied that in
1923 the conditions were not ripe: “1926 is not 1921 and not 1923. Today we have
different workers, we have greater mass activity and other slogans”. This past
had to be liquidated: “Without permitting fractions, while we maintain our old
positions with respect to fractions, we should mandate the Central Committee to
draw into the work of the party all the old groups in the party and to offer to
them the possibility of working under the direction of the Central Committee”.
The Central Committee should be reorganised “from the point of view of a
Politburo with full powers and a secretariat of functionaries subordinated to it”
(38). Immediately after this, the storm broke.

The discussion at the Fourteenth Congress proves to be very interesting for the
understanding of the problems of the party at this date. Nothing new was said
about the kulak problem. The Congress re-asserted the “line”, even though the
rejection of a resolution drafted by Tchanin and Sokolnikov, stressing that the
decisive factor in economic development resides in the capacity to develop
agriculture and to integrate into the world market, enabled official historians later
on to call this “the Congress of Industrialisation”. What is important is that some
of those who had helped to crush the Opposition posed some of precisely the
problems which the Opposition had raised, that the methods employed to crush
Trotsky were criticised by those who had initiated them, and, finally, that for the
first time the problem of the authority and the role of Stalin came up for

Zinoviev confirmed that Lenin ’s Testament existed and described the conditions
in which it had been shuffled aside. He recalled the warning against Stalin, in
order to point out that, today, the danger was becoming concrete, in the alliance
between the kulak, the nepman and the bureaucrat. He confessed that he had
taken part, with Stalin, in the “coup d ’etat” which, in the Young Communist
League, had resulted in the recall and exile of the elected leaders. He told how the
members of the Politburo, for years and in his presence, had formed a real
fraction, meeting without Trotsky, who was a regularly elected member, in order
to apply “group discipline” in normal meetings, which was ground for exclusion in
the party.(39) To this Yaroslavsky replied that it was foolish to accuse the majority
of forming a fraction, since, from the moment that it is the majority it cannot be a
fraction. Other delegates spoke of the conditions which the apparatus imposed
on the militants: Avilov-Glebov said that opponents kept silent “for fear of being
sent to Murmansk or to Turkestan”. Krupskaya declared that these postings
created in the party the impossibility of speaking sincerely or openly … “If we
draft resolutions on internal democracy, and at the same time create conditions
such that a member of the party can be transfered to another post for having
expressed his opinion, then all our good intentions about internal democracy
remain on paper.”

The intervention of Lenin ’s widow considerably raised the level of the discussion:
it was one of the last occasion on which a Bolshevik Congress was to agree to
listen to someone who recalled to it what Lenin ’s thought really was. She
protested strongly against the abuse of appeals to the authority of “Leninism”: “I
think that it is out of place here to shout that this or that is the true Leninism. I
recently re-read the first chapters of ‘The State and Revolution ’ … He wrote:
‘There have been cases in history where the teachings of great revolutionaries
have been robbed of their essence after their deaths. They have been converted
into harmless icons, but those who honoured their name blunted the
revolutionary edge of their teaching.” I think that this bitter quotation obliges us
no to cover this or that of our conceptions with the label of Leninism, but that we
should examine every question in its essence … For us, marxists, truth is what
corresponds to reality. Vladimir Ilyitch used to say: ‘Marx ’s teaching is invincible
because it is true … The work of our congress must be to seek and to find the
correct line … Bukharin said here, with great emphasis, that what the congress
decides will be correct. Every Bolshevik regards the decisions of the congress as
obligatory, but we should not adopt the position of the English jurist who took
literally the popular English saying to the effect that Parliament can decide
anything and even turn a man into a woman”. The Congress was impressed up to
that point, but it roared with fury at the crime of high treason against the
conception which the speaker held of the history of Bolshevism, when she, who
ever since Iskra , had been the working-class centre of the organisation,
concluded: “We should not console ourselves with the thought that the majority
is always right. In the history of our party, there have been congresses where the
majority was wrong. For instance, let US recall the Stockholm Congress” (40).
Krupskaya added to the grievances which were piling up against her this major
grievance, that she reminded them of the merits of Trotsky, of the friendship
which Lenin had for him, and that she denounced the inadmissible methods
employed against him.

It is significant that part of the discussion,—the most stormy part,—turned

around Stalin himself, who was, for the first time, denounced as the presiding
genius who had appeared to represent the apparatus, the incarnation of the
forces leading to degeneration. Sokolnikov denounced the situation which,
independently of Stalin ’s personality, meant that, from the moment when the
same person was a member of the Politburo and head of the secretariat: “political
divergences may express themselves, one way or another, in organisational
measures”. He threw out the warning: “If comrade Stalin wants to deserve the
same confidence as we had it Lenin, then let him be worthy of it.” (41). Kamenev
sharply and courageously, but without emphasis, despite the hurly-burly,
declared: “Because I have more than once said this to Stalin personally, because I
have said it more than once to the representatives of the party, I repeat to the
congress: I have formed the conviction that comrade Stalin cannot fulfil the
function of re-unifying the general stuff of Bolshevism … We are against the
theory of one-man leadership. We are against the creation of a ‘chief ’”! (42)
Bukharin ’s friend, Tomsky, at once protested that there did not and would not
exist a “system with chiefs”. Stalin ’s henchmen rushed to deny it—and this was a
new, important factor. Kuibyshev declared: “In the name of the Central Control
Commission, I declare that comrade Stalin, as general secretary of our party, is
precisely the person who has been capable, with the majority of the Central
Committee and its support, of gathering round himself the best forces of the
party and putting them to work … On the basis of real experience, or a real
knowledge of our leadership, I declare, in the name of the Central Control
Commission, that this leadership and this general secretary are what the party
need to go from victory to victory” (43).

Stalin and his people indeed intended to win these victories under the banner of
socialism in a single country. Zinoviev introduced a compact bundle of quotations
from Lenin, a general analysis, which ended: “The final victory of socialism in a
single country is impossible … It will be decided on the international level.” For
Stalin ’s side, he had only one quotation, and that taken out of context, but he
also had an imperturbable confidence in generalities and in the influence of
scholastic reasoning on meetings of functionaries: “It is impossible to know what
we are building. We cannot ‘Lake one step forward without knowing the direction
of the movement … Are we in the process of constructing socialism while we cast
doubt on the victory of socialist construction, or are we working at random,
blindly, preparing the ground for bourgeois democracy, while we wait for the
international socialist revolution?” (44). Meanwhile Bukharin, with greater
intellectual finesse, brandished the hated alternative of the permanent revolution,
and pressured Zinoviev, who conceded that socialism could be constructed in a
single country, but maintained that it could be finally achieved only on the world

The congress closed with the adoption of the positions of Stalin and Molotov by
559 votes to 65. The Central Committee was renewed: four of Zinoviev ’s
supporters, including Zalutsky, were not re-elected and Lashevich became an
alternate member, while eleven former alternates disappeared. There were
sixteen new full members and twenty-three hitherto unknown apparatchiki
among the alternates, some of whom were at the beginning of a brilliant career:
Gamarnik, Postyshev, Unschlicht, Lominadze and Andre Zhdanov.

The Leningrad Apparatus is Crushed

The Leningraders remained at the congress with the same forces as they had had
at the opening. They were crushed, but they had not yet drank the cup to its
dregs. Stalin referred in his closing speech to their differences with Trotsky, and
adopted the role of a champion of unity: “We did not agree with comrades
Zinoviev and Kamenev because we knew that the method of amputation meant
many risks for the party, that the method of amputation and of blood-letting—
because they were calling for blood—is dangerous and contagious. Today you
exclude one, tomorrow another and the next day a third. What will be left to us in
the party?” He addressed the Leningrad leaders: “You call for the blood of
Bukharin? We will not give you his blood. Know that!” (45) But at the same time,
he put on in turn a threatening front: “We do not have to be distracted by these
discussions. We are a party that governs; do not forget that”. This was a language
understood by functionaries who had day-to-day difficulties to deal with.

Stalin had spoken of reprisals, and they were not slow to come. Shortly after the
congress, a delegation from the secretariat arrived in Leningrad, led by Molotov
and including Voroshilov, Kirov, Kalinin, Stetsky and other first-rank leaders. The
provincial committee was accused of having falsified the votes by excluding those
from the Viborg district, which was hostile to Zinoviev. The delegation was
accused of not having respected the decision of the provincial committee on
party unity. The troops of the general secretary dismantled in a few days the
apparatus which Zinoviev had put together. They held meetings of committees on
every level; they paid special attention to the secretaries and alternated promises
of promotion with threats of being moved to Turkestan; they held the threat of
unemployment over the heads of workers. Zinoviev ’s people were thrown into
confusion; he had assured them that the position was impregnable. Soon their
principal concern was to save their own skins. Moreover, many of them were
petty tyrants, whose fall or humiliation was seen by workers with a secret
satisfaction. Zinoviev ’s protestations about violations of democracy were
received with laughter. Already at the congress Mikoyan had pinned him down:
“When Zinoviev had the majority, he favoured iron disciple. But now that he does
not have the majority, he is against it”.

Victor Serge witnessed the unfolding of this operation. It took a fortnight. He has
left us a bitter description of what went on, of the arguments of the emissaries,
based on violence, on fear and on respect for fetishes: “The very low educational
level of part of the audience and their material dependence on the committees
ensured success in advance” (46). The Communist Youth held out longer than the
local committees; their regional committee was able to reject a resolution
approving the decisions of the congress and to issue an appeal for a special
congress. It was then wound up by the envoys of the secretariat. At the March
congress, six members of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth still
defended the views of the Opposition. A leningrader, Katalynov, denounced the
struggle of “Stalinism” against “Leninism” (47). The official historian, Yaroslavsky,
himself admitted that the conquest of the factory cells was no less difficult. But it
was achieved, all the same, and Molotov could announce to the Central
Committee on January 20, 1926, that, of the 72,907 members of the party who
had been individually consulted, some 70,389, or 93%, said that they opposed the
Opposition, and 2,244, some 3.2g were for. Zinoviev lost even his position as
president of the Leningrad Soviet; his reign was ended. Serge Kirov, the
apparatchik from Azerbaidjan, took the apparatus of the Korthem Commune in
hand and was to remain its first secretary until his death.

”Socialism in a Single Country”

Now that Stalin had been victorious, thanks to the apparatus, he could play at
being a theoretician. His new book, “Problems of Leninism”, repeated the
statement that socialism could be constructed in one country alone, defining
socialism the possibility of resolving the contradictions between the proletariat
and the peasantry by the internal forces of our country, the possibility that the
proletariat can take the power and can utilise this power to construct a wholly
socialist society in our country, with the sympathy and support of the proletariat
in the other countries but without the preceding victory of proletarian revolutions
in other countries” (48).

He rejected as “anti-Leninist” the statement according to which the backward

state of revolutionary Russia could be an insuperable obstacle to the construction
of socialism in the USSR -alone. Stalin reduced the obstacle, in the end, to one, the
threat which the capitalist world held over her.

This in 1926, there appeared in a theoretical form the justification of what for
years was to be Stalinist Russia, on the basis of the isolation of revolutionary
Russia, the result of the delay in the world revolution. However, at that date it still
remained necessary to convince all the Bolsheviks, those of the right as well as
those of the Left, that they had to act as if the actual regime were indeed
“socialism” and “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, as they had wished for
them, as Lenin had taught them and for which they had made the revolution.
1. Quoted in E.H.Carr, “The Interregnum”, p. 356.

2. Pravda , January 30, 1924

3. Ibid.

4. Daniels, “The Conscience of the Revolution”, Harvard U.P. 1960, p. 239, according to Bajanov.

5. Quoted in E. H. Carr, op. cit., p. 362

6. Bulletin Communiste, No. 77, 1924, pp. 639—642

7. Quoted by Daniels, op. cit., p. 238

8. “Bolshevik”, June 5, 1924, quoted in Sorlin, “Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin”, Paris, Colin, 1962

9. “Letter to the German Comrades”, in “Bulletin Communiste” No. 57, 1921, p. 960

10. Rosmer, “Moscou sous Lenin” (paris, Horay, 1953) pp. 287—288. The English-language edition is
“Lenin ’s Moscow”, publ. by Pluto Press, 1971, p. 213.

11. Quoted in K. S. Karol, “Visa pour la Pologne”, pp. 45—46

12. Ibidem, p. 46

13. “Cahiers du Bolchevisme”, No. 1, 1924, pp. 12—13

14. Ibid. No. 5, pp. 296—312 and No. 6, pp. 375—395

15. Ibid. No. 7, pp. 450—463

16. Ibid. Mo. 7, pp. 464—471 and No. 8, pp. 529—543

17. Internationale Communiste, December 20, 1921

18. Letter of Krupskaya, in “Correspondance Internationale”, No. 1, January 7, 1925, pp. 4-5

19. “Cahiers du Bolchevisme”, No. 12, pp. 751—753

20. Ibid. No. 12, pp. 753—759

21. Victor Serge, “Vers l ’Industrialisation”, pp. 486—487

22. Quoted in Deutscher, “The Prophet Unarmed”, p. 235

23. Quoted by Ehrlich, “The Soviet Industrialisation Debate”, Harvard U.P. 1960, p. 49

24. Ibid. p. 59.

25. Deutscher, op. cit., p. 235

26. Ehrlich, op. cit., p. 59

27. Deutscher, op. cit., pp. 231—232

28. Erlich, op. cit., p. 10

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. Deutscher, op. cit., p. 243

32. Ibid. 240

33. Quoted in Carr, “Socialism in One Country”, Vol. 1, p. 258

34. Quoted in Zinoviev, “Le Leninisme”, p. 186

35. Ibid. p. 189

36. Ibid. .p. 233

37. Ibid. p. 290

38. Quoted in Carr, p. cit., p. 301

39. “Bulletin Communiste”, No. 12, 1926, pp. 178—180

40. Ibid. pp. 181—183

41. Quoted in Daniels, op. cit., p. 268

42. Quoted in Carr, op. cit., p. 138

43. Ibid. p. 146

44. Quoted in Yaroslavsky, “Histoire du Parti Communiste de l ’URSS”, Paris, 1931, p. 425

45. Quoted by Sorlin, pp, 203—204

46. V. Serge, “Memoires d ’un Revolutionnaire”, Seuil, Paris, 1961, p. 209

47. R. T. Fisher, “Pattern of Soviet Youth: a Study of the Congresses of the Komsomol”, Columbia
U.P., 1961, p. 120

48. Stalin, “Problems of Leninism”, International Publishers, New York, 1934, p. 65

Chapter X. The Struggle of the Unified Opposition

The battle at the Fourteenth Congress was to be no more than a preface to the
more important battle which was joined within the party. The party had just
decided, unanimously, to change the name of the party for the second time, and
to become “the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of the USSR”. It was to witness the
rise of the coalition of the two oppositions, that of 1923 and that of 1925, and the
gathering together of what could appear as the elite of the party and of the Old
Guard against the leadership in the hands of the General Secretary. Perhaps, as
the majority of the historians think, the alliance of Trotsky with Zinoviev and
Kamenev was inevitable, after first one and then the others had seen their efforts
broken against the dominating power of the apparatus. However, this was less
evident to the actors in the drama. In fact, it was from Zinoviev and Kamenev,
whom moreover he regarded as his principal adversaries, that Trotsky had
received the most serious blows, and he did not have them to thank for his
isolation being only relative, since he continued to be a member of the Politburo.
It was partly thanks to Trotsky ’s attacks and revelations that Kamenev and
especially Zinoviev had lost the prestige which presented them as the lieutenants
and, later, as the successors of Lenin, in the front rank of the troika .

It seems likely that neither of the contending fractions at the Fourteenth

Congress ignored the important factor which the intervention of Trotsky might be
in the conflict in which his conquerors were tearing each other apart. Zinoviev had
revealed Stalin ’s underhand attacks on him. Stalin had revealed that he had
refused to exclude him from the party, as the other triumvirs had demanded.
Mikoyan had contrasted Trotsky ’s disciplined attitude to the attitude of the
Leningraders, and Tomsky had contrasted the clarity of his position to their
subterfuges. Yaroslavsky and Kalinin had reproached them for the methods they
had used against him. Krupskaya had paid homage to him at length, while
Lashevich had admitted that he had been right on many of the points in the 1923
discussion. However, Trotsky had remained silent. he had intervened only twice
and then briefly, once to support Zinoviev, who justified his hostile attitude the
preceding year by declaring that they could not elect a man to the Politburo who
was accused of so many mistakes, and the second time to protest when Stalin
announced “reprisals” against the Leningrad organisation.

We may believe, with the majority of the historians, that this abstention from the
fight in 1925 was the greatest tactical error of Trotsky ’s career. The fact is that
this appreciation is easier for anyone who knows the history that followed.
Trotsky ’s personal feeling was that there was nothing to choose between the
protagonists on either side. On January 5, 1926, he wrote to Bukharin to remind
him how he (Trotsky) had been treated as a “demagogue” in 1924 for having
said—with a trace of exaggeration, as he recognised—that the Communist
workers of Leningrad were literally “muzzled” by the apparatus. He observed that
the same unanimity reigned today, in the opposite way, on the one hand in
Leningrad and on the other hand in the other organisations in the country. All
alike were gripped by the apparatuses (1). This position seems to have had the
general support of Trotsky ’s friends and of the nucleus of the 1923 Opposition.
After all, Zinoviev and Kamenev were the inventors of “Trotskyism” and the
“Trotskyists” in Leningrad did not fail to express their scepticism about the rowdy
defence of and example of workers ’ democracy by the “bosses” of the Commune
of the North.

Trotsky was to declare later: “This explosion caught me completely by surprise. I

remained hesitant during the Congress, because the situation was developing. It
was not completely clear to me” (2). Personal notes reproduced by Deutscher add
some points to this: according to him there is “more than a grain of truth” in the
idea that the 1925 Opposition was a continuation of that of 1923, because the
hostility of the Congress to the Leningrad people reflected that of the country
against the cities. Trotsky looked for a revival in the working class, which the
tribune Zinoviev would thus express in his own way, but which he hoped would
take forms other than the “vulgar shouting” of these people whom he believed to
be “rightly discredited” (3).

The Unification of the Opposition

In reality, to the extent that the two groups, the old opposition and the new,
stood for a working-class, internationalist programme, denounced the same
danger, the alliance of the kulaks, the nepmen and the bureaucrats, the
degeneration of the party under Stalin and his fraction, to this extent it was
inevitable that the forces would come nearer to each other. Bukharin retained a
sentimental attachment to Trotsky, but the position of the Leningraders seriously
alarmed him; he hoped for a moment to check the union which many were
forecasting. Trotsky agreed to discuss with him. He wrote, on January 5, to
Bukharin: “I know that some comrades, including, perhaps, yourself, have
developed until very recently a plan which goes like this, to give to the workers in
the party cells the possibility of criticising what goes on in the factory, the unions
and the region, while at the same time to beat down firmly any “opposition”
which emerges from the top of the party”. Trotsky warned Bukharin: “In this way
the regime of the apparatus as a whole would be preserved and its base would be
broadened” (4). He offered to Bukharin a bloc against Stalin for real internal
democracy, but Bukharin was not to be able to bring himself to accept it.

As for Zinoviev and Kamenev, they were ready to make all the necessary
concessions. As Zinoviev had confided to Ruth Fischer, they had undertaken a
struggle for power, and they needed Trotsky, his prestige and his abilities, but in
addition, after victory, his “firm hand to bring the party and the International back
to the road of socialism” (5). Trotsky ’s friends were divided: Radek wanted an
alliance with the Stalin group against the Right. Mrachkovsky was hostile to any
bloc. Serebriakov supported the unification and served as go-between, between
Trotsky and the former triumvirs. First Kamenev and then Zinoviev made
advances, defended themselves, recognised their mistakes and undertook to do
so before the party as a whole. At the Central Committee, Zinoviev was to repeat:
“I have committed many mistakes. I believe that two of them were of the
greatest importance. My first, that of 1917, you all know. I believe that the second
was the more serious, because the mistake of 1917 was committed when Lenin
was there, was corrected by him and by ourselves also within a few days … There
can be no doubt: the fundamental nucleus of the 1923 Opposition was correct to
warn us against the dangers of deviating from the proletarian line and against the
threatening development of the apparatus regime … Yes, on the question of the
bureaucratic oppression of the apparatus, Trotsky was correct against us” (6).
At their first meetings, Zinoviev and Kamenev confided to an incredulous Trotsky
the fear which Stalin inspired in them. He seemed to be motivated exclusively by
the thirst for power and they believed him to be capable of any crime: “He makes
you expect anything”, declared Kamenev (7). At the Central Committee in April
1925, Kamenev and Trotsky were on the same side, voting for amendments to the
resolutions on economic policy. They ended working together to draft
subsequent formulations. The first step was taken and the alliance was not slow
in coming. This time both camps moved a little of the way. The Unified Opposition
would not defend the theses of “the Permanent Revolution”, but Zinoviev and
Kamenev would acknowledge not only that Trotsky was correct in 1923 but also
that they themselves had fabricated “Trotskyism”, in order to get rid of an
obstacle on the road to power. In these conditions Trotsky could not refuse an
agreement which brought to his fundamental theses the support of those who,
he believed, represented “thousands of revolutionary workers in Leningrad”,
whatever reservations he might feel about them. Later he was to write: “In the
struggle for the masses, when the political line is correct, we can make a bloc, not
only with the devil, but with even a Sanco Panza with two heads” (5). On both
sides the hesitant and those who had not yet declared themselves remained to be
convinced. Of course, the greatest difficulties would be in Leningrad. Zinoviev and
Lashevich on the one side and Preobrazhensky on the other undertook to smooth
these out (9). Finally the United Opposition was formed.

It must be admitted that it created a great impression. No past Opposition had

brought together at the same time so many prestigious, brilliant personalities.
Not only were there Zinoviev, Trotsky and Kamenev, whom no one could deny
having been Lenin ’s first lieutenants. Besides, there were Preobrazhensky,
Serebriakov, Krestinsky, the successors of Sverdlov. Here were ten of the
eighteen surviving members of the Central Committee of 1919, elected at the
height of the Civil War. There were Krupskaya, Lenin ’s widow, and Badayev, the
former deputy in the Tsarist Duma, the most illustrious survivors from the pre-
revolutionary period. They had with them the best-known of the victors in the
Civil War, the military Bolsheviks such as Antonov-Ovseenko, Lashevich, Muralov
and the great commissars, Ivan Nikitich Smirnov, the conqueror of Kolchak, the
figurehead Mrachkovsky, and Smilga, the organiser of the party in the Baltic fleet,
Lenin ’s “accomplice” in his “plot” against the Central Committee on the eve of
the insurrection.(10) The Opposition team out-classed that of its adversaries from
the standpoint of talented intellectual abilities. Sosnovsky, who was very popular
for his satires on the bureaucrats, and Karl Radek, who specialised on
international questions, were the leading journalists in the country. Apart from
Bukharin, there were no economists whose standing equalled that of
Preobrazhensky, Piatakov or Smilga. Everyone agrees that Rakovsky and Joffe
were the most able diplomats which the country possessed. Some of these men,
the fine flower of the Old Guard, still held important posts, from which they
derived prestige. Zinoviev was President of the International. The former sailor,
Yevdokimov, his right-hand man, was in the organisation bureau ’. Beloborodov
was Commissar for the Interior of the RSFSR, Lashevich was vice-Commissar for
War and Muralov was inspector-general of the Red Army. These responsible
figures, to be sure, were few in number compared with the tens of thousands of
functionaries of the party and the state among whom lay the strength of Stalin.
But Zinoviev and Kamenev at least, and their friends who, in Victor Serge ’s words,
“had changed their minds in a single night”, did not doubt that the elite which had
thus been assembled would be recognised. Kamenev told Trotsky: “It will be
enough for you and Zinoviev to appear on the same platform for the party to
recognise its real Central Committee” (11). The principal difference between the
new allies lay there, for Trotsky thought that the struggle was going to be long
and hard. Of course, the situation had changed since 1923, when the proletariat, in
disintegration, passively watched its own defeat. In 1925 there was a real working
class in the factories and an important working class layer in the party. It is true
that Trotsky could not follow Bukharin, who tried to justify the authoritarian
regime on the ground that all consciousness had disappeared from the working
class and who fixed at decades the interval that would be needed for its re-birth
among workers who most commonly were deficient in culture and freshly
recruited from the countryside. But Trotsky did not under-estimate, as did his new
associates, the immensity of the task, which consisted of re-creating in the party,
and, through it, in the working class, an enlightened and combative vanguard.
Trotsky believed that the revolutionary wave which had carried the Bolshevik
party to rower in 1917 had definitively flowed back. Russia was experiencing a new
period of reaction. This was the source of the decomposition of the party and of
the beginning of its degeneration, marked by the supremacy of the apparatus.
Turning in on themselves, losing confidence in each other and in collective
initiatives, losing the appetite for struggle and for consciousness, millions of
people who had written the revolutionary story of 1917 and, of the Civil War were
diverted from activity by weariness and scepticism. The “great debate” was to
interest at the most a nucleus of 20,000 out of the 150 million inhabitants of the
USSR. Information about it would not filter through the controlled press except in
a sufficiently one-sided and distorted way for it to evoke no serious echo.

In fact the Opposition, which announced itself as “the Left Opposition” and
wished to be the proletarian, Bolshevik wing of the party, was swimming against
the current. Appeals to revolutionary energy, to responsibility, to devotion and to
the struggle for the truth passed over the heads of people who were tired and
disillusioned. They yearned, if not for well-being, at least for security. They did not
want to hear about “the Permanent Revolution”, if it meant “the Un-interrupted
Revolution”. For they retained from the revolution and the civil war the memories
of terrible sufferings, of tens of thousands of deaths, of exhaustion, hunger and
every kind of destruction. Alexander Barmine, who was a Communist militant at
eighteen, a former soldier and commissar in the Red Army, has confessed how,
when he became a diplomat and then a highly-placed official, he found Stalin ’s
articles against the permanent revolution a source of relief; he tells how they
decided to reject it as being too dangerous (12). “Socialism in a Single Country”
offered to such people as hin a perspective which, to be sure, was less heroic, but
more immediate, more concrete and, particularly, less adventurous. The relative
recovery of the economy since the “turn” to NEP made the small material
satisfactions, of which all had been so long denied, all the more valuable. They
were too recent to be taken as a matter of course, and the desire to cling to the
slight improvement in the standard of living worked fundamentally against those
whose proposals seemed to imply the risk of calling everything into question.

Stalin knew what he was doing when he blamed Trotsky for his “heroic postures”,
and declared that he was addressing, not real men “but kinds of creations of ideas
and dreams, revolutionaries from head to foot” (13). It is true that in 1926—27 the
people in the party and others resembled the “real man”, as Stalin, their
personification, saw them, more than the “revolutionary creatures from head to
foot”, of whom Trotsky is the prototype and whom he led into battle in 1917 and
the years that followed. In this sense, if the apparatus triumphed thanks to a
demobilisation of the masses, it in turn was a factor in demobilising them and
found its justification in the demobilisation. The tragic defeats of the Chinese
Revolution in 1927 provided a striking confirmation of the forecasts of the
Opposition when it denounced the policies which had led to them, but they
weakened the Opposition terribly because they struck precisely at the confidence,
the vigour and the morale of the militants. These defeats were a final re-
inforcement of the camp which bears the responsibility for them, because they
made unreal the perspectives of those who had shown how to avoid them.

The same contradiction hangs over the methods of struggle of the Opposition.
They were convinced that the policies of the leadership were weakening the
Soviet regime and the International, and the militants denounced the danger of
capitalist restoration, which they believed to be relatively close. Indeed, cleavage
between the party and the masses and between the apparatus and the party
members was a factor which weakened the regime in the face of this danger. The
Opposition did not, therefore, permit itself to advance demoralising criticisms or
to make public gestures which could enlarge the cracks inside the party, which in
their eyes remained the historic instrument of the world revolution and which
they criticised, not for existing, but for not being a sufficiently effective
instrument, because of its bureaucratic methods and its short-sightedness. As
long as the Opposition could have a legal existence in the party, these
contradictions did not prevent it from presenting itself as a unity, but when the
pressure of the apparatus came down on it, it became exhausted, trapped
between the fire of those who did not want to remain within the framework of
the party and those who could not conceive of leaving it, the latter being divided,
in turn, into those who wanted to stay there in order to fight and those who were
ready to stop fighting.

These conditions explain the esoteric language in which these controversies

developed, for the handful of initiates who had the means to follow them. More
than half o the members of the party were illiterate and the discussions there
were conducted in conventional party language: both sides appealed to Marx,
Engels and Lenin and both sides bludgeoned each other with huge piles of
quotations, both sides appealed to tradition, to authorities and to formulae
which, for the majority of party members, were no more than meaningless.
The leaders of the Opposition were distinguished Marxists. They posed questions
on a high theoretical level, but how could the rank and file understand the
analyses of Preobrazhensky on the rate of accumulation? When Bukharin seized
upon the phrase about “exploiting” the peasantry, what member would know
that, in the language of a Marxist economist, the word does not have the vulgar,
immoral meaning which he claimed to give it? In this connection, the mediocrity of
the arguments of Stalin, the flatness of the comparisons and the vulgarity of the
re-iterated abuse, carried infinitely more weight than the wisest analyses of the
Opposition, which in any case were never published and always distorted. When
the Opposition advanced the plan for the Dnieprostroy dam, Stalin replied that it
was as stupid to build it as to give a phonograph to a peasant who has not a cow
or a cart. To be sure, this was absurd, and Dnieprostroy was to become “a great
Stalinist accomplishment”, but few people were in a position to understand the
economic factors which made accomplishments of this kind necessary. The plan
of industrialisation and planning which Trotsky; Piatakov and Preobrazhensky
elaborated is a triumph of socialist thinking, and their adversaries were to make
use of it, in their own way, but after having said that this “super-industrial
programme”, “superproletarian”, was only the utopian superstructure of social-
democratic illusions, a demagogic masquerade to conceal the right-wing essence
of the real platform of the Opposition (14)—and after having eliminated its

In this way the Opposition was to be incessantly encircled. It was denounced as

“fractional” as soon as it tried to show itself within the party, pursued and
restricted to fighting in the leading bodies which it could not hope to convince
and from which it could not hope to emerge without being ignominiously
hounded with the accusation of the major crime of wishing for a split, under the
pressure of repression and of the differences which sharpened as its possibilities
of acting diminished.

The Right-ist Policy of Stalin and Bukharin

The policy against which the Unified Opposition asserted itself was not at all new.
It was the same as the troika had outlined at the Twelfth Congress and of which
Bukharin had made himself the theoretician in 1924 and 1925. Its consequences
merely became clearer with the passing of time. Social differences were
continuing to grow in the countryside, where the power of the kulak was
revealing itself in the un-interrupted process of concentration of land. In 1925 26,
fifteen million hectares were hired, against 7.7 million in 1924 25, nearly all by the
kulaks. The poor peasant hired himself as a day-labourer or as a tenant farmer and
continued to pay to the money-lender sums four times bigger than what ne owed
in taxes. The process was particularly marked in certain regions: in the Ukraine,
4574 of the peasants had no horses and 35 had no cows. The control of the co-
operatives belonged less and less to the poor peasants and more and more to the
kulaks, who represented 6% of the leading elements in them. The 22,000 co-
operative farms were a mere drop in the ocean of the 30 to 40 million individual
holdings and even of the mass of the 2,160,000 agricultural proletarians,
employed in August 1926 on the kulak undertakings which employed more than
ten wage-workers each (15).

This rural petty bourgeois, in the full flood of its development, did not restrict its
ambitions to the immediate sphere of its personal interests. It exerted its
pressure in the Soviets and even in the party, in order to be defended against the
unions of the poor peasants or the trade unions which included no more than 20%
of the agricultural workers. It openly intervened against the new Soviet legislation
demanded that registered marriages should be privileged as against free unions,
protested against the rights accorded to women in the code and called for its
property to be defended by draconian measures, such as the death penalty for
horse-stealing, which, moreover, it sometimes applied summarily. It was the
vanguard and the basis for all the forces which in Russia could support one day a
capitalist restoration.

The rhythm of industrialisation was far from sufficient to create the conditions for
its being absorbed. To be sure, Russian industry had nearly recovered its pre-war
level, in the new conditions since it had not had the advantage of the foreign
capital which had been the basis of industrialisation in Tsarist Russia. None the
less, the population had risen by more than ten million inhabitants in the interval
and Russia ’s backwardness was more considerable than it had been, because the
reconstruction had been effected on the basis of the pre-war level of technique,
while the capitalist countries had improved theirs. While pre-war Russian prices
had been close to those on the world market, in 1926 they were two- and a half
times higher. The Communist Academy estimated, in that year, the “premium of
scarcity” carried by the Russian consumer to be over a milliard roubles. The
inadequacy of industry revealed itself in what people called “the scarcity of
products”. The same sources believed that it amounted to more than 400 million
rubles of industrial products which, other things being equal, the market could
have absorbed. This explains the survival and the progress of private capital, the
share in production of which was valued, according to the sources, at between 4%
and 10%. There were 20,000 workers in private industry in Moscow alone, and in
the whole of the Ukraine there were 620,000. Private capital dominated the
internal market, and levied its heavy ton upon it. It did as much business, in
Moscow, as the cooperatives. For the country as a whole, it reached over 71/2
milliards per year, out of a total figure of sales in the country of 31 milliards. It is
impossible to evaluate its total profits, which were considerable, and which
represented so much capital withdrawn from accumulation, and, therefore, from

The elements of a vigorous, formidable bourgeoisie had, therefore, reappeared at

the heart of Soviet society. They were all the more dangerous in that the
economic administration and organisations were an ever heavier weight, in their
enormous bureaucratic apparatus. Their parasitic functioning retarded industrial
development. The statistics show that in 1927 there were 2,766, 136 workers and
clerks in industry, while administration engaged 2,076,977 clerks and
functionaries. A letter by Stalin and Rykov, on August 16, 1926, estimated at 2
milliard roubles the administrative costs of functioning, and thought that 300 to
400 millions could be saved right away. A report by Ordzhonikidze, which
appeared in Pravda on December 15, 1926, mentions that the State personnel had
increased by 43,199, after a yearlong campaign to bring the total down. He
quoted the most scandalous cases, such as the fact that an annual balance-sheet
by a Moscow trust took 13 volumes of 7,354 pages, and cost, by itself, 1,306,000
roubles. Meanwhile, the real earnings of the worker continued to fall between
1926 and 1927, and stabilised in 1927.

The alliance of the Nepman, the kulak and the bureaucrat, which the Unified
Opposition denounced, expressed itself in the policy of changing nothing and of
laissez-faire. This was implied and was supported by the theories of Bukharin to
the effect that capitalism had been stabilised for a long period and of Stalin about
the construction of socialism in one country alone. In the International, these
ideas were expressed in a new policy, which was a direct break from the
conceptions which had been expressed in the course of the first four Congresses:
the “united front” with the reformist organisations, parties and trade unions,
without a revolutionary perspective. As Deutscher has written: “To assume
beforehand that the Soviet Union would have to build socialism alone throughout
was to abandon the prospect of the international revolution; and to abandon it
was to refuse to work for it, even to obstruct it” (16).

The desire to declare themselves to be “Leninists”, the anxiety of the non-Russian

Communist leaders to distance themselves with regard to “Trotskyism”, the
confusion, at first involuntary but more and more often repeated and affirmed
between the interests of the Soviet state, its foreign policy and its diplomatic
needs, on the one hand, and the interests of the world revolution, of the
Communist parties and the necessities of the struggle of the working class in this
or that country, on the other, explain the rest.

Thus, the Polish Communists wrongly believed that they had the support of the
International when in May 1926 they supported Marshall Pilsudski in the coup d
’etat which raised him to power and permitted him to break the workers ’
movement; the policy of alliances with non-proletarian classes, the kulak and the
petty bourgeoisie in Russia, expressed itself in Polish in an alliance with a petty
bourgeois movement, labelled as a socialist and peasant movement, but which
was immediately to transform itself into a military dictatorship, backed by the
magnates of high finance. In May 1925, after a year of contacts with Purcell, the
leaders of the British Trade Unions, the Russian unions formed the Anglo-Soviet
Trade Union Committee, on which the diplomats counted to struggle against the
hostile attempts of the British bourgeoisie: it was especially to confer upon the
reformist leaders in Britain the prestige of being supported by the Bolsheviks.
They, after having by their attitude broken the general strike of May 1926, were to
end up supporting the offensive against the USSR which their government was
waging in 1927.
The reader who is interested in this unique episode in the class struggle in Britain
can refer to the monograph by Julian Symons, “The General Strike”, which
appeared in 1957. Numerous examples are to be found in it of the way in which
the British workers, in the course of the strike, developed real sovietic forms—in
the true sense of the word—of organisation, which leads the author to declare
that ‘in many places, the workers intensely desired to take on the responsibilities
of power”. He particularly quotes the organisation of the central strike committee
in Merthyr Tydfil (p.146), with its sub-committees for feeding, transport, finance,
information, etc., and the example, a little everywhere, of workers ’ defence
groups, real workers ’ militias, which the General Council condemned as both
“imprudent and impossible to realise” (p. 145). He concludes also (p. 231) with the
total responsibility of the leadership for the defeat of the movement which they
were unable to prevent, to the extent that it refused to give to this movement the
“political, indeed revolutionary” character which it demanded. The fact that the
overwhelming majority of the strikers had the impression that they had been
betrayed by them did not, however, contribute to strengthening the
revolutionary “minority” which the Communists influenced, because of the fact
that the policy of the leaders seemed to be endorsed by the Anglo-Russian

More significant still of this line is the policy which the party leadership and the
International operated in China. This policy was to produce its results in 1927 at
the moment of the Second Chinese Revolution, in the great controversy with the

The Beginnings of the Opposition

Aware of the difficulties which awaited them, after the double check of their
separate attempts at opposition, the leaders of the Opposition began by
organising. This was an important step, because by taking it they violated a
discipline which they claimed to accept: they entered clandestinity in relation to
the party. Its members, after years of public activity and state responsibilities,
found themselves plunged back again into a form of activity which they had not
practices since the days of Tsarism, but which was completely familiar to them;
secret meetings, gatherings in private houses or in the woods with pickets and
patrols, couriers, emissaries, body-guards, “contacts”, all the paraphernalia of
illegality in new conditions, because the group, clandestine in the party, acted by
doing its best to throw off the surveillance of the GPU. The first stage consisted of
organising a network covering the whole country, with a structure parallel to that
of the party; for that many contacts had to be obtained, beyond the circle of the
personal friends of each member, old relations had to be renewed, new militants
had to be brought in in order everywhere to form a kernel, to start with.

In a few months, the most determined elements of the successive oppositions

were organised in this way, former members of the workers ’ Opposition, the
friends of Zinoviev being rather fewer in numbers than those of Trotsky, the
oppositionists of 1923. In all, between 4,000 and 5,000, according to the extreme
estimates; the figure is, of course, derisory in relation to the 750,000 members
which the party had, but we are dealing here with a vanguard, which would have
to struggle in a more restricted circle than the party itself, and, above all, as
Deutscher stresses, its recruits, whether old militants or, on the contrary, youth,
were all holders of responsible positions, cadres and leaders. Among them were
neither opportunists nor careerists. Even though the only representative of the
Opposition in the Organisation Bureau, Yevdokimov, had just been removed from
his post, possibilities existed of getting support from certain sectors of the
apparatus. The offices of Zinoviev and of the International were used considerably
for recruitment and forming connections. Of course, many journeys were
necessary to set up this network, and many meetings. One after another, the
emissaries were called before control commissions, which did their utmost to
uncover any proof of the existence of a fraction. They were to obtain it when an
agent-provocateur betrayed a meeting in the woods near Moscow, where the
chairman was Bilensky, a high official of the International, and Lashevich, a
member of the government, took part.

The unified Opposition made its first official political demonstration at the Central
Committee in June, where Trotsky read, on his own responsibility, the
“Declaration of the Thirteen”. It started from the resolution of December 5, 1923,
which recognised the existence of bureaucratism in the state and in the party and
described how the evil was constantly becoming worse, as well as the rise of the
internal dangers due to the pro-capitalist elements, kulaks and nepmen. This was
the situation in which the opposition, the Left Opposition, was formed, Bolshevik
and proletarian, in opposition to the ruling fraction, itself an alliance between the
“Stalin fraction”, the expression of the apparatus, and the right, the Bukharin
fraction, spokesmen of the kulaks. It declared that it was ready, immediately, to
co-operate with others to “restore together a party regime … which would fully
conform to its traditions” of workers ’ democracy. In case this offer was refused,
it would struggle, within the party constitution, to win a majority and to become
the leadership which would regenerate the party.

Its programme is a class programme, a programme of “defence of the

proletariat” (17). In the first place, it pronounces in favour of raising workers ’ pay
and for reform in the tax system, to free the small peasants from taxes, to lighten
the taxes on the middle peasants and heavily tax the kulaks. The longer-range
measures which it advocated were a policy of support for collectivisation in the
countryside and, in particular an acceleration of the pace of industrial
development; the Opposition called for “a Five-Year Plan”. In this way it proposed
to strengthen the role of the working class in the workers ’ state, by raising its
specific weight in the country as well as giving back to it the right to speak within
the framework of the party, and driving back the elements of capitalism which
were being re-born in the countryside. It stressed the danger of the growing
confusion between the interests of the Russian state as such and those of the
international working class. The Declaration of the 13 condemned the opportunist
policy which inspired the agreement with the British trade unions in the Anglo-
Russian Committee and provided a cover from the Russian revolutionaries for the
reformist leaders who had just sabotaged the General Strike in the month of May.
In this way the Opposition declared war on the theory of “Socialism in a Single
Country”, which justified the opportunist con- cessions by the foreign Communist
parties and the abandonment of revolutionary perspectives.

The discussions were exceedingly sharp. Dzerzhinsky, the head of the GPU, was to
die of heart failure after a violent speech attacking Kamenev. All the proposals of
the Thirteen were defeated and the majority, in its turn, counter-attacked on
“breaches of discipline”. An Oppositionist, Ossovski, who was guilty of having
written in Bolshevik an article calling for a new party, was excluded. Trotsky and
his friends who did not express solidarity with him, none the less refused to vote
for his exclusion, on the ground that, in their opinion, the apparatus was
responsible for this “serious mistake”. The Lashevitch affair was regarded as “an
illegal conspiracy”. The guilty were censured, Lashevitch was removed from his
post as a Comissar, and was barred from the Central Committee and from any
responsible post for two years; Zinoviev was removed from the Politburo and
replaced by Rudzutak. The closing resolution accused the Opposition of having
decided to “go over from the legal defence of of its viewpoint to the creation of a
vast illegal organisation throughout the whole country, setting itself up against
the party and in this way preparing to split it” (15).

The lesson for the Opposition was clear. The party would never hear what it raid
at the Central Committee. It must address the public opinion of the party directly,
utilising the hitherto clandestine network for an open struggle in the party cells
and nuclei. It decided to attempt this “break out” for the end of September, with
the Fifteenth Conference of the party in prospect. As it was probable that the
apparatus would hit back, it was decided that the leaders of the Opposition
themselves would go, as the party constitution permitted, to the workers ’ cells to
defend their viewpoint there. Trotsky, Piatakov, Radek, Smilga and Sapronov
went to the meeting of the cell of the railway workers at Riazan-Ural, and were
received and heard there. The cell approved a motion which repeated the
principal points in the programme of the Opposition. The Opposition was
rejoicing; its first “break out” had been a victory. But the Moscow Committee
protested; the “chiefs of the Opposition were not to be allowed to inject, an
opposition fever into the party”. Several days later the same leaders presented
themselves at the meeting of the party cell in the Aviopribor aircraft factory, the
party officials called on the regional committee for support. Uglanov, with his
deputy Riutin at. his side, at the head of a shock troop, arrived to re-inforce them,
too late to prevent Trotsky from speaking, but in time to threaten and intimidate.
From September 27 onwards, Pravda began to publish the names of people
“excluded for fractional activities”. In the vote in which the “unity” thesis,
defended by Riutin and Uglanov, confronted the “discussion” thesis, there were
75 votes for unity and 27 for discussion. Given the circumstances, this was
encouraging for the Opposition.

But in reality this half-success was only the preface to serious defeats. In Moscow
as in Leningrad, the apparatus decided to silence the Opposition. From that time
onwards its speakers ran into shock groups—of which Riutin in Moscow was the
organiser—which whistled, shouted, made them inaudible, provoked incidents
and fights. At the Putilov factory in Leningrad Zinoviev was able to speak for a
quarter of an hour amid the uproar, and got 25 votes against 1375. The Opposition
denounced the methods of political gangsterism of the apparatus, which put
“hooligans” into the meetings to intimidate the workers. Stalin retorted that it
was “the voice of the party”, healthy and solid, which was drowning that of the
agitators. In fact, the most serious thing is that the strong-arm men of the
committees ruled with impunity in the party cells and that the workers remained
indifferent and, in the end, docile. They could vote for the Opposition on a
“special occasion”, but they changed their minds immediately when confronted
with violence and threats. The Riazan-Ural cell had another meeting; it reversed
its earlier decision, and Molotov denounced chose who had not hesitated to “try
to fling themselves into a workers ’ cell”. The Opposition was bottled up, caught
in a trap. If it tried to continue its efforts to break out, the cell meetings were to
be the restricted scene of organised battles, of which they would be accused of
being the instigators, without their being able to win a single supporter. The mass
of the party had demonstrated this; it would accept without flinching, both the
brutal rejection of discussion and the exclusions which would not fail to come

The “bloc” was splitting up; some of the former supporters of the Workers ’
Opposition or of the Democratic Centralism group were thinking that the
demonstration was completed, that no regeneration of the party was possible
and that the revolutionaries must break with it. Zinoviev and Kamenev, on the
other hand, were terrified by the development of the activity which they had
undertaken. They knew that they had placed themselves in difficulty by effectively
organising a fraction, after they had many times publicly defended the prohibition
of fractions, thereby agitating the base against the Central Committee of which
they were members. They therefore wanted to go no further down the road
which was leading the Opposition to exclusion. Trotsky likewise condemned any
project to construct a second party, and continued to believe in the possibility of
regeneration. However, he did not think that the outcome of the battle would be
decided in a few weeks. He was not resigned to being excluded without saying
what he had to say,. but he also feared the discouragement and collapse of
Zinoviev and Kamenev, who fell from higher than he did, because they would drag
the Opposition down with them. He therefore believed that he could possibly
negotiate to remain in the party without capitulating, while avoiding the
exclusion, which the working-class base, the stake in the struggle, was in danger,
for the moment, of accepting with indifference.

Discussion between the secretariat and the heads of the Opposition began on
October 4. Stalin finally accepted a text which permitted the Opposition not to be
excluded. A declaration signed by Trotsky, Zinoviev, Piatakov, Yevdokimov,
Kamenev and Sokolnikov, declared that it stood as a whole by the positions
expressed in the Declaration of the 13. But it disclaimed the position of
Shliapnikov and Medvedev in favour of a new party, as well as those of the
foreign supporters of the Opposition, Suvarin, Maslow, Ruth Fischer and others,
who publicly criticised the International. Above all, the heads of the Opposition
admitted the fractional character of their activity and recognised that they had
infringed discipline. They undertook thenceforth to observe discipline and called
upon their comrades “to dissolve all fractional elements which have been formed
round the viewpoints of the Opposition”. The Op position declared that the
allusion made by Krupskaya to the Stockholm Conference was mistaken, to the
extent that it “could be regarded as a threat to split”. It concluded: “Each of us
undertakes to defend his conceptions solely within the forms laid down by the
constitution and the decisions of the congresses and of the Central Committee of
our party, because we are convinced that all that is correct in our ideas will be
adopted by the party in the course of its future work” (19).

The declaration of October 16 is not the capitulation about which so many

historians have spoken. None the less, it is the recognition of a serious defeat. The
leaders who signed it cut themselves off from a part of their followers when they
disavowed the Medvedev—Shliapnikov group, and gave the impression of having
retreated at the moment when they were personally threatened with exclusion.
Above all, they accepted placing themselves again in the vicious circle from which
they had tried to get out, first in Spring by organising their fraction, and then in
autumn by the break-through into the party cells. While they maintained their
viewpoint, they agreed to express them only in the leading organisms, where they
would have no chance of being supported and what they said would never be
made known to party members. Many supporters of the Opposition understood
the declaration as an admission of impotence. The advocates of workers ’
democracy had given up defending it. In addition, in the eyes of many, the game
was played out. Many militants abandoned a posit- ion which they judged
henceforth to be without perspective.(20)

The Fifteenth Conference

None the less, the Opposition did not get the truce which it had negotiated and
expected to get in the perspective of a democratically prepared conference. The
fight was to start up again, and the Fifteenth Congress was only to meet at the
end of 1927, after the heads of the Opposition had been excluded. On October 15,
Max Eastman published in the New York Times the testament of Lenin. Now, the
preceding autumn, following the publication by Eastman of a book which
mentioned the existence of this document, and quoted large extracts from it,
Trotsky accepted—on the instructions of the leading nucleus of the Opposition,
as he was to write to Muralov in 1925—that he should publish in Bolshevik a
repudiation drafted in extremely harsh terms against the American writer,
practically accusing him of publishing false slander against the Russian party (21).
In reality, since Eastman was well-known to be a personal friend of Trotsky, it is
clear to everyone that Trotsky could not ignore his initiative. When Trotsky
yielded to the ultimatum of the Politburo because he judged the moment
inopportune to open up a new battle, he risked cutting himself off from his own
friends abroad and being taken, among the oppositionists themselves, for a
“capitulator”. In 1926 Trotsky ’s position was still worse. Eastman took the
initiative of publishing in the middle of the battle of the Russian Opposition to
make a break-through, and believed that he had the agreement of Rakovsky to do
so. But he could not divine that the Opposition had had, meanwhile, to retreat,
and that the document was to appear two days after the declaration of October

Immediately Stalin accused the Opposition of playing a double game, of claiming a

truce in Moscow, while at the same time it was stabbing the party in the back. So
he declared that the armistice was broken and obtained from the Central
Committee the inclusion in the agenda of the Fifteenth Conference of a debate on
the Opposition to be opened by himself. On October 25, he submitted his draft
report to the Politburo it stated that the Opposition was a “Social-democratic
fraction”. It was then that there developed a scene of extraordinary violence, in
the course of which Trotsky called Stalin “the grave-digger of the revolution”.
Natalia Sedova has described the reaction of Trotsky ’s friends, who were
terrified, and Piatakov, who was very upset, repeating: “Why did you say that? He
will never forgive it” (22).

During the Fifteenth Conference, from October 2i to November 3, the heads of

the Opposition stood by the terms of their October declaration, and remained
silent for six days, despite the attacks and sarcasm of which they were the object.
On the seventh day of the conference, Stalin spent three hours presenting his
report on the Opposition and the internal situation in the party. After having
recalled, at length, what Zinoviev and Kamenev had said about Trotsky, and what
Trotsky had said about Zinoviev and Kamenev, he repeated the attack , which by
now was traditional, on “Trotskyism”, which, he said, the people of the “new
opposition” had joined. He denounced the fractional activity, of which, according
to him, the declaration of October 16, a manoeuvre to deceive the party, was only
one aspect. Since the Opposition had insisted on maintaining its point of view “as
a whole”, then let it eat the soup it has itself cooked!”. He counter-posed, to the
policy of industrialisation which it supported, when it “would condemn thousands
of workers and peasants to poverty”, the policy of the Central Committee, for an
improvement of welfare without social convulsions, gradually: “Less chatter,
more positive, creative work for socialist construction”. He ended with an appeal
for struggle to force the Opposition to capitulate: “To realise the most complete
unity, we must take one more step forward, we must get the Opposition bloc to
renounce its fundamental mistakes and thus protect the party and Leninism
against all revisionist attacks and attempts” (23).

Kamenev spoke first for the Opposition. He was frequently interrupted, but was
dignified and in control of himself. He explained the declaration of October 16 as a
demonstration that they wanted to avoid a threatening split. None the less, the
Opposition could not remain silent in the face of the accusations which Stalin had
made. The beginning of his speech indicates how high feeling was running in the
conference hall. The delegates who had received Stalin with “enthusiastic
ovations” when he recalled the past polemics between Zinoviev, Kamenev or
Trotsky and Lenin, screamed about “inadmissible methods” when reminded of
Bukharin ’s attacks on Lenin in 1915. Kamenev calmly discussed the “exaggerated
accusations” hurled at the Opposition and developed the arguments which it
advanced on the economic field. On the question of the bureaucratisation of the
party, he declared that the alliance of the new Opposition with Trotsky rested on
the will to “defend certain well-established conceptions”. Stalin ’s resolution
made difficult “the common work which the Opposition desired”. The shrieks of
the delegates would not advance the discussion one inch: “Accuse us, comrades,
if you wish, but we no longer live in the Middle Ages. We no longer live in the time
of witch-hunts” (24).

According to Trotsky ’s biographer, Deutscher, he delivered one of his greatest

speeches. It was moderate in form and brilliant and elevated in content. He
compelled or his audience to listen in a hostile but respectful silence, and several
times was to obtain an extension of his speaking time. He explained the reasons
behind the declaration of October 16: “The fractional sharpness of the struggle on
the part of the Opposition—whatever may have been the conditions which
provoked it—could have been interpreted by many militants—and really were so
interpreted—as if the differences of opinion vent so far as to make joint work
impossible … The object and the meaning of the declaration of October 16 were
to integrate the defence of the opinions which we hold in the framework of the
common work and solidifying responsibility of the policy of the party as a whole.”
On the economic situation, he gave statistics. It was in no way catastrophic, but
the worst thing would be to close one ’s eyes, not to speak the truth, in time. He
recalled the proposals of the Opposition, admitted that they could have been
mistaken, but demanded to know how, as the reporter had declared, they could
be considered as “social-democratic”, if the word had any meaning. He was, he
said, accused of lacking confidence; none the less, he had proposed, in “Towards
Socialism or Capitalism”, rates of industrial development three times as high as
those proposed by the Central Committee. He was, he said, accused of spreading
panic, by forecasting a conflict between town and country, and speaking of Russia
’s need for the support of the workers of Europe. None the less, the recent past
was there, to demonstrate that the hypothesis was plausible. Had they forgotten
Kronstadt and the crisis of 1921? Had they forgotten the influence of the Russian
Revolution on Europe and the defence of it by the European working class?

He then vent to the heart of the debate, the discussion about the construction of
socialism in a single country. He began by making the conference laugh at the
expense of Bukharin—and this was no small achievement—who had recently
written that it was possible to construct socialism independently of international
conditions. Bukharin can just as well go stark raked out in the streets in Moscow
in January, Trotsky said, “independently” of the police or the temperature.
Trotsky said that he was concerned that the party leadership did not seek to use
this theory to justify routinist working, which concealed a renunciation and loss of
confidence in revolutionary perspectives. The real danger lay there. For there was
no reason to think that the Russians, in their country, would succeed in
constructing socialism any more easily than the workers of Europe could make
the revolution. He summed up his position: “I think that the victory of socialism in
our country can only be guaranteed by a victorious revolution of the European
proletariat”. But we must not distort his words: “If we do not believe that our
state is a proletarian state, with bureaucratic deformations, it is true, that is, a
state which must be brought still closer to the working class, despite certain
mistaken bureaucratic opinions: if we do not believe that our building is socialist;
if we do not believe that there are in our country, sufficient resources to develop
the socialist economy; if we were not convinced of our complete and final victory,
it is evident that our place would no longer be in the ranks of a Communist party”.
This is why the Opposition condemns any split. “But anyone who believes that our
State is a proletarian state, with bureaucratic deformations due to the pressure of
the petty bourgeois element and to capitalist encirclement, anyone who thinks
that our policy does not sufficiently ensure the new allocation of the national
resources, that person would struggle, with the means provided by the party and
on the road of the party, against what he regards as dangerous, while taking full
responsibility for the whole of the policy of the party and of the workers ’ state”

The methods of the apparatus, of which the resolution presented by Stalin was an
example, present a real danger, that of transforming the agreement reached on
October into a scrap of paper, of leading to the re-birth of fractional methods and,
finally, of the danger of splits.

Zinoviev, who spoke after Trotsky, cut a poor figure. He did not succeed in
dominating the disorderly assembly. He attacked the tone of the articles in the
press which were against the Opposition, such as the “Communist Voice” of
Saratov, which quoted the verse of Blok, “Is it our fault that your skeleton cracks
under our heavy feet?”, and other journals which wrote about “beating down the
Opposition”. But his moralising and his reminiscences about how Lenin treated
the opposition in his time provoked the hilarity of the delegates, who heard him,
at the same time, excuse them on the pretext that the internal struggle “is not
waged in kid gloves” and that “exaggerations are inevitable”. After he had
referred to the real divergences by hiding behind quotations from Lenin, he could
not make himself heard above the riot, despite his declarations: “I am only
justifying myself and I accuse no one”. He had to avoid speaking about the
International and the “bloc” with Trotsky; his time was exhausted, and despite his
appeals the Congress refused to extend it (26).

He was an easy prey for a hitherto unknown Bukharin, who was sarcastic,
mordant, violent, cynical and determined to crush the Oppositionists by
thoroughly exploiting their hesitations and contradictions. “Comrade Zinoviev …
has told us how Lenin well knew how to deal with an opposition, without needing
to exclude everybody, when Zinoviev himself, in a workers ’ meeting, could get
only two votes. Lenin well knew what to do. But how can we exclude everybody,
when these people only have two votes? When we have all the votes on our side
and two against, when these two votes shout about “Thermidor”, then we need
to think about it.” Stalin jumped up to show his delighted approval, as did the
whole conference, when Bukharin sold: “You say you retreated for fear of a
catastrophe. Tell us straight, is the catastrophe a split? Three people put out of
the party, there you have all that the split consists of.” After a ferocious gibe at
Zinoviev and his “measureless vanity”, Bukharin let fly this cruel remark: “All this
is a farce”.(27)

Bukharin ’s speech set the tone. Molotov denounced the Opposition as set “on
the road to Kronstadt”. He declared that “propaganda for ideas hostile to
Leninism is incompatible with the quality of membership of the party” and that a
party member could not permit “the development and deepening of the Social-
Democratic deviation”. Rykov, who in his opening speech, in which he accused
the Opposition of “defeatism”, had none the less recognised that “it would be
absurd to accuse the Opposition of

working consciously for the defeat of the dictatorship of the proletariat”, called at
the end of the conference for “the party to take the measures necessary to
ensure its unity and to maintain the ideological firmness of its line” (25). The
former Oppositionist Larin denounced “what is rotten in the ideas of the
Opposition” and declared: “The revolution is developing over the heads of certain
of its leaders” (29). More serious things were to follow. Shliapnikov and Medvedev
denounced their own mistakes and called on their supporters to submit (30).
Krupskaya broke with the Opposition. With the capitulation of one who was the
incarnation of the spirit of the Old Bolsheviks, in the eyes of many, the apparatus
won a great moral victory.

In Stalin ’s reply to the discussion, he demanded the capitulation of the whole of

the Opposition, and threatened: “Either you fulfil these conditions, which
represent the pre-conditions for the unity of the party to be complete, or you do
not, and the party, which defeated you yesterday, tomorrow will finally destroy
you” (31). The resolution, which was voted unanimously, condemned the
Opposition as a “social-democratic deviation” and its activity, “which can only
undermine the unity of the party, weaken the dictatorship of the proletariat and
let loose in the country the anti-proletarian forces which seek to weakened and to
bring down the dictatorship” (32). Trotsky and Kamenev were excluded from the
Politburo. The conference demanded that the Executive Committee of the
Communist International remove Zinoviev from his position.

This time, on the level of highly-placed individuals, the rout was complete. At the
meeting of the Executive Committee of the Communist International in December
1926 (the Seventh Plenum), the supporters of the Opposition in foreign
Communist parties were expelled, after a report by Stalin. Zinoviev did not appeal,
but delivered “some explanations”. Trotsky pleaded once again against the
theory of “socialism in a single country”. Nearly all the foreign delegates had been
lined-up in advance. The French delegate, Jacques Doriot, distinguished himself by
his denunciation of the proposals of the Opposition which had been advanced
privately in his presence by the Yugoslav, Vuya Vuyovitch, who had already been
removed from his post as secretary of the Young Communist International. Stalin
’s closing statement set the toner “To the question about his past as a Menshevik,
Trotsky has replied, not with posing, that the very fatt that he joined the party
proves that he has left behind all that separated him from Bolshevism up to that
time on the threshold of the party. How can anyone deposit such filth on the
threshold of the party? Did Trotsky put it there so as to have to hand what he
could use in future struggles within the party?” (33)

The internal differences widened in the Opposition. Those who supported the
idea of a new party, the former supporters of the Democratic Centralism
tendency, the “Decists, regarded the Fifteenth Conference as having
demonstrated not only that the apparatus was determined and that it dominated
the degenerated party, but also that the leaders of the Opposition were
opportunists and persistently retained the illusions which led to their capitulation
on October 16. They broke away from the Unified Opposition and, with Sapronov
and Vladimir Smirnov, formed the “Group of Fifteen”, who believed that the
inner-party struggle was taking on a class character:

”On Stalin ’s side, he has the army of functionaries, while the Opposition attracts
the working-class fraction of the party; Stalin ’s group and the petty bourgeoisie
who support him can be overthrown only if the Opposition can be sure of the
active sympathy and support of the working class; it is therefore necessary to
form a nucleus to defend the cause of the proletarian revolution” (34).

At the other extreme, other members of the Opposition drew the conclusion that
the Fifteenth conference had shown that any compromise was impossible;
militants who were convinced that the formation of the second party would be a
catastrophe for the cause of socialism had no alternative to capitulation, to bow
before the victorious leadership, to dissolve the fraction and to keep silent.
Zinoviev and Kamenev were quite ready to support that point of view. Confronted
by the repression in the party and by rising number of expulsions which were in
process, they issued as their slogan for their supporters that they should seek at
all costs not to be excluded, concealing their views if necessary and voting with
the majority to protect themselves: in their opinion, no struggle was possible
otherwise than within the party.

Trotsky and his close friends of the nucleus of the Twenty-Three had no illusion
about the effectiveness of this tactic, which led inevitably to demoralisation and
finally to abandoning the struggle. They thought that every day was bringing
more proof that they were on the right road. Had not the “class-enemy”,
Ustrialov, just written in his emigré journal, Novosti Jisny, on October 19:

”Glory to the Politburo if the declaration of repentance by the leaders of the

Opposition is the result of their uniliteral, un-conditional capitulation. But it
would be deplorable if it were the outcome of a compromise … The
victorious Central Committee must acquire an inner immunity against the
deleterious poison of the Opposition … Otherwise this will be a calamity for
the country … is why we are not only against Zinoviev but deliberately for
Stalin” (35).

Nonetheless, these were arguments which, to be solid, could germinate only in

another soil, another party and in a working class less indifferent and less

Trotsky gave Victor Serge to understand, in a conversation with him, that the
disloyalty of Stalin and the methods of the apparatus were not the only reasons
for their plight. On November 26 he drafted, for himself, some theses which were
never completely finished, but which provide us with his personal appreciation of
the situation and of the chances of success of the Opposition in the battle. He
stressed that “in history revolutions have always been followed by counter-
revolutions”, and declared that “revolution is impossible without the participation
of the masses”, whose “hopes for a better future are always associated with the
slogan of revolution”, and are always exaggerated, which explains their inevitable
disappointment with the immediate results of the revolution. The Russian worker
masses, in 1926, had become: “ … more prudent, more sceptical, less directly
receptive to revolutionary watch-words and great generalisations”. On the
subject of the great debate which had just taken place, he wrote, still for himself:
The official adoption of the theory of ‘social- ism in a single country ’ means
theoretical sanction for turns which have already taken place … The Permanent
Revolution has become a scarecrow, precisely in order to exploit the state of
mind of an important layer of workers who are by no means careerists, but who
have put on some weight and founded a family. The theory of the Permanent
Revolution, utilised in this sense, has nothing to do with the old discussion, which
has been relegated long since to the archives, but it raises the phantom of new
convulsions—‘heroic ’ invasions, violations of ‘law and order ’; a danger to what
has been won in the period of reconstruction, a new area of great efforts and
sacrifices” (36).

This was far from being a new phenomenon. Already on September 10, 1915,
Sosnovsky had noted in Pravda what he regarded as an infection of the ruling
masses, who were none the less exhausted and decaying, the appearance, “by
the side of the desire to live better, which is natural among workers, of the
tendency to live as well as possible following the principle of ‘After me the deluge.
I”. But the leaders of the apparatus today were gambling on this real lassitude, a
depression of the workers ’ movement, which the activity of the Opposition, by
itself, was, of course, unable to overcome. Let a victory of the revolution happen
abroad, and the wind of 1917 would blow through the country again, raise the
spirits of the discouraged and inspire devotion and initiative in the younger
generation whom the heavy authority of its elders was for the moment crushing.

Trotsky was to write about this period, just before he died, in reply to all those
who listed his mistakes and lost opportunities: “The Left Opposition could not
take power and did not even hope to do so … A struggle for power, led by the
Left Opposition, by a revolutionary Marxist organisation, can be conceived only in
the conditions of a revolutionary uprising … At the beginning of the 1920 ’s there
was no upward revolutionary movement in Russia, quite the contrary: in such
conditions to start a struggle for power was out of the question … The conditions
of the Soviet reaction were infinitely more difficult for the Bolsheviks than Tsarist
conditions had been” (37).

So what remained to be done? The essential thing was to hold on, to be on the
scene as long as possible to declare principles and to denounce the way in which
socialism was being abused and to preserve the possibilities of revolution outside.
The apparatus took root in the backwardness of the Russian masses, their poverty
and lack of culture, in their disillusionment, their inertia, their despair and an
instinctive conservatism. The victory of a revolution abroad, especially if it
happened in an advanced country—which his analysis led him to believe was
possible—could reverse the situation. In a few days it would deflate the nonsense
about “socialism in a single country”, and would bring back the masses into
activity, those masses who “make politics”, as Lenin loved to repeat. Therefore,
above all, the Marxist analyses and internationalist principles based upon them
bad to be maintained. The fight had to be kept up against consolatory lies and
disarming illusions. Revolutionary perspectives had to be maintained, even
though at that moment they were neither accepted nor understood. In the end
the Opposition followed him and at the end of December (1926) it was
functioning again, even more clandestinely than before, and seriously diminished.

The Chinese Revolution

The winter of 1926—27 passed without incidents or polemics. From April onwards
the battle broke out again, this time about the Chinese Revolution. The
Opposition attacked the policy which the International, on the instruction of the
leaders of the Russian Communist Party, was operating in China. The stake in the
battle was an important one; it concerned, as Trotsky said, “the fate of the
Chinese proletariat”, but through the revolution which was mobilising the two
million workers and tens of millions of peasants of China in their onslaught on the
old China, the whole of revolutionary strategy, the role of the party, the place of
the mass organisations, the nature of the State power and the relations between
the vanguard and the masses came into question, as in 1917.

To be sure, there were important differences. The Chinese proletariat, like

industrial capitalism, was less developed than it had been in Russia. The old
landlords ’ rule was nearly intact in the countryside, while the authority of the
state was broken and in pieces, under the combined blows of foreign
dismemberment and of the first revolution, with a series of war-lords controlling
different regions. Essentially, however, the development of Chinese society
conformed to the law of uneven development and the revolution unfolded in
accordance with the law of combined development, as in Russia since the
beginning of the 19th century. In fact the essential difference between the two
revolutions lies in the fact that the Russian Revolution was the first of this kind in
a semi-colonial country. China, the colonial characteristics of which were more
accentuated, had, in return, the possibility of benefitting not only by the
experience but still more from the advice and technical and military assistance of
the Russian Communists.

It was in April 1927 that the Opposition made the “Chinese question” their war-
horse. However, the activity of the Chinese Communists seems, and moreover in
self-defence, seems to have developed differently from that of the Bolsheviks in
1917, at a time when the mass movement was developing along similar lines. In
1922 the very small Communist Party, which was led by Ch ’en Tu-hsiu, a
distinguished intellectual, decided that its members should individually enter the
Kuomintang, the nationalist party which Sun Yat-Sen, the father of the first
Chinese revolution, had inspired and organised. At the time, the Kuomintang itself
was in dispute with its own generals over the control of South China.

The Kuomintang was a cowardly enough organisation. Its programme included

the realisation of national unity, agrarian reform and, in a certain sense, socialism.
Communists entered it in order to make contact with its working-class supporters,
who were numerous in the Canton region. In 1924 the Sun Yat-Sen government
signed a treaty of alliance with Yoffe, the Soviet ambassador. The young Chinese
nationalist movement was seeking external points of support and did not
overlook the prestige which the first victorious revolution enjoyed in the eyes of
the Chinese workers and peasants. The Russian Politburo sent a resident
counsellor to the Kuomintang, Borodin. The Chinese Communist Party, which
joined the Kuomintang, provided it with organising cadres who did their best to
copy the structure and methods of the Bolsheviks. Russian officers led the new
nationalist army and Chinese officers followed courses in Moscow.

One of these, Chiang Kai-Chek, on his return in 1924, founded the Whampoa
military academy. This ambitious soldier, a gifted man, the incarnation of the
Young Chinese bourgeoisie, learned to use revolutionary language. He declared
before a conference of the Kuomintang:

”Our alliance with the Soviet Union, with the world revolution, is in reality an
alliance with all the revolutionary parties which struggle in common against
the imperialists in order to accomplish the world revolution” (35).

The Canton chamber of commerce ended a proclamation with the cry, “Long Live
the World Revolution!”. In fact the construction of the nationalist state in South
China was carried out thanks to the mobilisation of the worker and peasant

However, the workers and peasants began to act on their own account. The great
strike in Canton and Hong Kong in 1924 saw the appearance of what was in fact
the first Chinese Soviet, the committee of the strikers ’ delegates, elected by the
workers. It disposed of a force of 2,000 armed pickets.. It had a police. It created
its own law court, its own schools. It legislated and carried out its decisions,
organising its committees for feeding and transport etc. From that moment the
difficulties began. While the leaders of the Kuomintang did their best to check the
development of the workers ’ movement, the leadership of the Chinese
Communist party proposed, in October 1925, that they should leave the
Kuomintang, so as to be able to lead the workers ’ struggle in an independent
way. The Executive Committee of the Communist International opposed the
suggestion. The line which it laid down for the Chinese Communist Party consisted
of evading the engagement of class battles with the patriotic bourgeoisie of the
Kuomintang, of acting as a brake, especially, on the agrarian movements and of
refraining from any criticism of the official ideology, “Sun-ism”. Stalin and
Bukharin had an analytical justification for this: the Chinese revolution was a
bourgeois revolution, but, in the struggle against feudalism and the international
bourgeoisie, the Chinese bourgeoisie had an anti-imperialist, revolutionary role,
and the alliance between it and the workers and peasants had to be preserved.
Bukharin was to explain: “The Kuomintang is an organisation of a special kind ,
something midway between a political party and an organisation like the Soviets,
into which different class groupings enter …. The Kuomintang includes the liberal
bourgeoisie (who in Russia were organised in the Cadet party, which became
counter-revolutionary in the stages before the revolution), as well as the petty
bourgeoisie and the working class. From the organisational point of view, the
Kuomintang is not an organisation in the generally accepted meaning of the term.
Its structure enables us to win it from below, by effecting a class regroupment …
We have to take advantage of this peculiarity in the course of the Chinese
Revolution …. We must more and more transform the Kuomintang into an
elective mass organisation … displace its centre of gravity towards the left and
change the social composition of the organisation” (39).

At the beginning of 1926, the International accepted the Kuomintang into

affiliation “as an associated party”. Chiang Kai-Shek, who shared the leadership
with Wang Ching-wei after the death of Sun, became an “associate member” of
the Executive Committee. None the less on March 20, 1927 he mounted his “little
coup d ’etat” at Canton, arrested the Communist trade union leaders, closed the
offices of the General Workers ’ Union, eliminated the Communists from .the
leadership of the Kuomintang and makes their remaining in the organisation
dependent on making absolutely no criticism of “Sun-ism” and handing over a list
of their members. The International and the Russian Party put pressure on the
Chinese Communist Party to accept these conditions. On this occasion, in April
1926, Trotsky raised for the first time the problem of the independence of the
Chinese Communist Party and criticised the admission of the Kuomintang into the
International. This discussion took place behind closed doors and no other
disagreement vas to reveal itself until April 1927.

During this time a conflict ripened between Chiang, who controlled the army, and
Wing, the leader of the civilians and the government. Chiang undertook the
Northern march, against the war-lords, and this campaign provided the pretext to
prohibit, in the name of patriotism, any strikes or peasant uprisings, land seizures
or workers ’ insurrections. The Chinese Communist Party witnessed the
enthusiasm of the general for the restoration of “order” as his conquests vent
forward, and once more demanded, through the agency of Ch ’en Tu-hsiu,
authoriation to follow an independent policy. At the Fourteenth Conference,
Stalin declared:

”It is to our party that the historic role was assigned to lead the first
proletarian revolution in the world. We are convinced that the Kuomintang
will succeed in playing this role in the Orient”.(40)

On May 15, 1925, Stalin defined the Kuomintang as “a unique workers ’ and
peasants ’ party”, and, at the Sixth Plenum of the ECCI, as “a revolutionary bloc of
workers, peasants and intellectuals, and of the urban democracy (bourgeoisie) on
the basis of the community of class-interests of these layers in the struggle
against the imperialists and the military-feudal order in general” (41) He hailed the
advance of Chiang as “signifying freedom of meeting, freedom of organisation for
all the revolutionary elements and especially the workers” (42). Bukharin
characterised the stage of the revolution by reference “to the fact that the
revolutionary forces are already organised in a state power with a regular,
organised army”, and concluded: “The advance of these armies is a particular
form of the revolutionary process” (43). In opposition to Ch ’en Tu-hsiu, they
declared once again that the bourgeoisie had “objectively, a revolutionary role”;
they approved the entry of the two Communists into the Kuomintang
government, where the occupied the ministries of agriculture and labour.

In these conditions the hesitations of the Chinese Communists are

understandable. On March 19, a general strike in Shanghai transformed itself
almost spontaneously in an insurrection. The Communist Party issued the slogan
for “An Assembly of delegates”, but it did not make this a slogan for action; it
organised a committee “at the top” and not a single election of delegates. Its
allies abandoned it and, for lack of perspectives, the insurrection was crushed.
The delegate of the International at Shanghai, Voitinsky, was to declare:

”We have let slip an extremely favourable historic moment. Power was in the
street and the party did not pick it up. Worse, it did not want it, and feared
it” (44).

In March the troops of Chiang stopped outside the gates of Shanghai. It was an
insurrection of workers, let by the General Workers ’ Union, which drove out the
last of the Northern soldiers. Pravda for March 22 announced:

”The victorious workers handed the keys of Shanghai to the Canton army. In
this gesture is expressed the heroic action of the Chinese proletariat”.

From then on Ch ’iang Kai-Shek openly prepared to eliminate the Communists in

Shanghai. At this point the Opposition intervened. On March 31 Trotsky wrote to
the Central Committee, complaining of the lack of information about China. He
emphasised that they seemed to be facing a powerful upsurge of the workers ’
movement. Why was the slogan of soviets not being issued? Why was the agrarian
revolution not being encouraged? In the absence of applying this line, there was a
risk of handing over the Chinese proletarian to a military coup d ’etat. On April 3
he wrote an article, publication of which was refused. In this he declared that the
party was involving the workers and peasants in the camp of the bourgeoisie;
making the Communist party a hostage in the Kuomintang was equivalent to an
act of treachery. It had to be said that the Kuomintang was not a workers ’ and
peasants party. On April 5 he wrote that Ch ’iang was preparing a coup and that
only the organisation of soviets could block its road. On April 12 he undertook a
long refutation of an article by Martynov, the former economist and right-wing
Menshevik, who joined the Communist party after the civil war, and who now
defended on behalf of Bukharin and Stalin on China the theory of “the revolution
by stages” which he had defended in Russia before 1971.

(Of course, the presence of Martynov in the editorial committee of Communist

International was throughout this period one of the main point: of the Opposition.
It is of interest that Stalin personally proposed that Martynov be accepted in the
party at the Thirteenth Congress, and that Stalin said that he was “one of the
most honest and effective of the Menshevik militants”. Later on Martynov was to
make the “mistake” of voting for a resolution of the Opposition, in the course of
the debate on the “new course”. At the Thirteenth Conference, Stalin took this
point up: “The Martynovs are in the Opposition. Note this. Is it by chance that
those who express non-proletarian currents vote for the Opposition? No! it is not
by chance”. From then on; Martynov become completely disciplined, and only the
Opposition used his past against him and accused him of “representing a non-
proletarian current”. For the leadership, be had turned into “a genuine
Bolshevik”. Was this by chance? Certainly not! Manuilsky was to provide the proof
of this at the Seventh Plenum of the Executive of the International in November
1926 (”International Correspondence”, 1927, No. 11). Manuilsky was flying to the
defence of the Czech Smeral, whom Trotsky had just violent ly attacked for the
position which he had taken against the Opposition by reminding him of his
chauvinist past and his many compromises with the bourgeoisie: since he has
become a Communist, declared Manuilsky, ‘Smeral, like a disciplined soldier,
standing at attention with his thumbs down his trouser-seams, has applied all the
decisions of his party and of the Communist International”. The ex-Mensheviks or
ex-Oppositionists had, in relation to such a situation, no other possibility but of
being blindly disciplined if they did not want to see their past dragged up a flung
in their faces).

On May 5 Stalin delivered a speech to 3,000 party members in the Hall of


”Ch ’iang Kai-shek is submitting to discipline. The Kuomintang is a bloc, a sort

of revolutionary parliament … Chiang Kai-Shek cannot do otherwise than
lead the army against the imperialists” (45).

The Chinese Communist party wanted Moscow that Chiang wanted to disarm the
workers al Shanghai. The reply came: “Bury the arms”. Bukharin was to say that in
effect they could ask themselves “whether it would not be better to hide their
weapons,not to accept the battle and in that way not to let themselves be
disarmed” (46). The Chinese Communist Party stepped up its advances to Ch ’iang,
denied the rumours of discord and refused the offers by the First Division of the
Canton army to help to support the workers ’ unions against the “generalissimo”.

On April 12, 1927, seven days after Stalin had spoken, and on the same day as
Trotsky wrote his attack on Martynov, Ch ’iang ’s strong-arm men attacked the
workers ’ pickets and premises, secure in the support of the Western bankers and
business men. Tens of thousands of workers, among them many Communists,
accused of being “reactionaries” and of conspiring with “the militarists of the
North”, were massacred. On April 21 Stalin was to declare: “The events have fully
and entirely proved the correctness of the line” (47) of the International. Bukharin
was to write off the destruction of the workers ’ vanguard by observing: “The
bourgeoisie has passed over to the side of the counter-revolution” (45).

The “Chinese Discussion”

The destruction of the proletariat of Shanghai and the “treachery” of Ch ’iang

were obviously a very severe blow to the prestige of the Stalin—Bukharin
leadership. They could also have restored that of the Opposition, which, though
deprived of information, had none the less forecast them. But the criticisms of the
Opposition had never penetrated the silence which surrounded the deliberations
of the leading bodies. Only a handful of cadres had known what the position of
Trotsky and Zinoviev was. None the less, the leaders of the Opposition grasped
the “Chinese question in the party as well as in the International with all the more
energy when Stalin and Bukharin denied that a defeat had taken place in order to
deny their own responsibility for it and obstinately continued to follow the same
line. Bukharin analysed the Shanghai coup d ’etat as “the insurrection of the big
bourgeoisie against the Kuomintang and the bloc of the Left of the Kuomintang”.
From then on, the Chinese Communist Party had to support Wang Ching-wei ’s
government at Hankow against Ch ’iang.

Trotsky delivered his attack on May 24 at the Executive Committee of the

International. He argued that, this time, the leadership would not be able to
conceal from the party how great a defeat it had suffered and its own
responsibility. The situation should be corrected immediately, the peasant
movements which were developing all over China should be encouraged and the
slogan of soviets should be advanced, to support and organise the movement and
to prepare the alliance of workers and peasants. The Politburo had “politically
disarmed” the Chinese working class, because it had compelled the same
“bureaucratic, apparatus conception” to be applied in China, the conception
which it held of revolutionary authority, as expressed itself in the regime in the
Communist Party in Russia. It was pure insanity to issue the slogan of arming,
while at the same time opposing that of soviets, as Stalin was doing. The trade
unions and mass organisations, which Stalin proposed to strengthen could only
play the essential role of defending and organising the “second power”, which
would be the soviets (49).

Stalin interrupted the debate, to announce that Great Britain had just broken off
diplomatic relations with the USSR, and commented: Trotsky has chosen for his
attack the moment when the party faces a “general crusade”, which thus
becomes “a united front stretching from Chamberlain to Trotsky”. Trotsky had
little difficulty in retorting that “no one has better supported the policy of
Chamberlain, especially in China, than Stalin by his policy”. But that had little or no
importance, because the end was in sight. Stalin had decided on his line and
expounded it in his scholastic manner:

”The agrarian revolution is the basis and the content of the democratic-
bourgeois revolution in China. The Kuomintang and the Hankow government
are the centre of the bourgeois democratic revolutionary movement.”

To issue the slogan of soviets would mean struggle against Hankow. But:

”Since there exists a specific revolutionary organisation, adapted to Chinese

conditions and proving its worth for the future development of the
democratic-bourgeois revolution in China … it would be stupid to destroy it”.

He rejected any comparison with Russia, “because Russia was on the eve of a
proletarian revolution, while China faces a democratic-bourgeois revolution, but
also because the Russian Provisional Government was counter-revolutionary,
while the government of Hankow today is a revolutionary government in the
bourgepis-democratic meaning of the word”. Stalin vent so far as to say that “the
Left Kuomintang is playing nearly the same role in the Chinese democratic
revolution today as the Soviets in 1905” (50).

”An admirable comparison”, cried Wang Ching-wei, who was busy during the
following weeks in suppressing the peasant movements at the hands of the
Hankow government and in effecting a reconciliation with Chiang Kai-shek. It
remained only for Stalin to censor all the nevs from China, to prepare to eliminate
the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party who were bearing the responsibilities
which he had imposed on them, and to carry through the turn which was to end in
October in the suicidal rising in Canton, which resulted from a decision reached in
Moscow and was organised in the name of a soviet which was formed in secret in
the offices of the Chinese Communist Party by Lominadze and Neumann, the
emissaries of Moscow.

The insight of the Opposition had not enabled it either to “save the Chinese
proletariat” or to overthrow the tendency in the USSR thanks to a revolutionary
victory. But the discussion about China revealed that, if the party leadership did
not scruple to appropriate the slogans of the Opposition, at least in appearance, it
could accommodate itself only less and less to the existence of the Opposition.
The Appeal of the Eighty-Three

In fact the Chinese discussion, for all that, at first brought the Opposition together
again and restored to it a coherence which it had lost at the end of 1926.
According to Krupskaya, there had been many more defections at the Fifteenth
Conference. The Old Bolshevik Badayev, then Zalutsky, then Sokolnikov and
others also deserted it. Trotsky had to have long discussions before he could
convince his comrades. Preobrazhensky and Radek, no less than Zinoviev and
Kamenev remained hostile to “the permanent revolution” and clung to affirming
their Leninist orthodoxy by remaining faithful to “the democratic dictatorship of
the proletariat and the peasantry”. They did not agree that the Opposition should
demand that the Chinese party leave the Kuomintang and were to reconcile
themselves to this only at the end of the discussion, contenting themselves during
the decisive months with demanding for it the right to an independent policy. But
events confirmed Trotsky ’s views and permitted him to display once again his
temperament as a fighter and a polemicist as well as his faculties of analysis and
foresight. The Opposition gathered itself again around him.

On the eve of the plenary meeting in April, it decided to collect signatures to a

declaration of solidarity with Trotsky and Zinoviev from leading party members;
this was to be “the Appeal of the 53”. Victor Serge tells how “the Chinese
Revolution electrified us all”. He bears witness that “in all the party cells in which
there were supporters of the Opposition … the discussions on the Central
Committee were reproduced with the same violence” (51). It is at this time that
Serge and his friend Tchadaev, who had been isolated in their cell for months, saw
a young worker vote with them. They learned from him that others agreed with
them, and had in mind to join them. “The ice was melting. Our contacts told us
that this was generally so in the party. Tchadaev said: ‘I think that they will wipe
us out before the big thaw comes” (52).

In fact they were announcing the first arrests of members of the Opposition. The
secretariat was systematically dismantling its leadership. Rakovsky, who remained
as ambassador in Paris, was joined there by Piatakov and Preobrazhensky, who
were sent there on a “mission”. Antonov-Ovseenko was sent to Prague, Safarov
to Ankara and Kamenev as ambassador to fascist Italy. The most brilliant of the
younger generation of the Oppositionists, Elzear Solntsev, who had worked with
Trotsky since 1923, was to be sent to USA and then to Germany. Other militants
were sent to appointments in Siberia or in Central Asia. Exasperation against
these “appointments” mounted, and, in mid-June, several thousand
Oppositionists massed in front of the Yaroslavl railway station in Moscow to
demonstrate their sympathy and solidarity with Smilga, who had just been posted
to Khabarovsk. Paradoxically, it was the repression itself which led to prudence
being forgotten, and the crowd was noisy. Trotsky and Zinoviev had to take the
decision to address the crowd, despite the risk of being accused of indiscipline, if
only to appeal for calm. Trotsky stressed the danger of war and the necessity to
gather round the party. The demonstration went no further, but on the following
day some of the demonstrators were summoned before control commissions. At
the Central Committee of June 25, Trotsky denounced the slanders and the
provocations to which the Opposition was being subjected, and declared:

”The route of the Stalinists ’ group is strictly determined. Today they falsify
what we say; tomorrow they will falsify what we do.”

He reminded them of the campaign of slander against Lenin in 1917 and foretold:

”They will talk about ‘the sealed train ’, about ‘foreign gold ’ and
‘conspiracies” (53)

It is clear that Trotsky was fighting from that moment. As a member of the Central
Committee he spoke at the Fifteenth Congress, even though the Opposition did
not have a single delegate there. He revealed to the party, the country and the
International what the Russian press had carefully disguised and the
responsibilities of the Politburo in the Chinese business. Stalin therefore put down
a demand that he and Zinoviev be excluded. Yaroslavsky presented the charges:
they were attacked for their intervention at the Executive of the International, for
the declaration of the 53 as a “fractional activity”, for the demonstration at the
Yaroslavl station and for criticisms which Zinoviev had made in front of a non-
party audience on the occasion of the jubilee of Pravda .

Trotsky continue to fight before the Commission. He developed the comparison

with the Thermidor of the French Revolution. He accused Stalin of weakening the
defence of the USSR by his policy, of systematically embittering the internal
conflicts and of operating the alliance with the English trade unions which
supported Chamberlain against the USSR. He declared:

”We shall continue to criticise the Stalinist regime as long as you have not
physically closed our mouths.”(54)

The Presidium, through Ordzhonikidze, proposed to exclude Trotsky and Zinoviev

from the Central Committee. However, it is clear that the majority was hesitant,

Stalin added another head to the indictment, that of “defeatism”. Trotsky had
stated in a letter to Ordzhonikidze that in the event of war he would adopt the
same attitude as Clemenceau in 1917 in relation to a government which he
regarded as incapable of waging the war. The “Clemenceau thesis” became a
threat of coup d ’etat.

At the meeting of the Central Committee and of the Control Commission,

Krupskaya called on the members of the Opposition to “close the ranks” and to
“rally behind the Central Committee” (55). Trotsky returned to the attack, calling
for “revolutionary unity” in place of “hypocritical sacred union”; he accused the
leadership of having weakened the USSR by sabotaging the Chinese Revolution,
quoting a speech in which Voroshilov condemned soviets on the ground that they
might weaken the rear of Ch ’iang ’s armies, calling it “a catastrophe” and “the
equivalent of a lost battle”. Weighing his words he said:

”In the case of war, the Stalin leadership will make victory more difficult”

The majority still hesitated. The Opposition tried to break its grip and to divide it
by means of a “pacific declaration”. It rejected the defeatist interpretation which
had been placed on the Clemenceau thesis and declared itself “absolutely and
unreservedly for the defence of the Soviet fatherland against imperialism”.
Maintaining its right to criticise, and affirming that there existed serious elements
of Thermidorean degeneration in the country, it made clear that it accused
neither the party nor the leadership of being Thermidoreans. It condemned any
suggestion of a split and concluded:

”We shall carry out all the decisions of the party and of its Central
Committee. We are ready to do everything to destroy all the elements of
fraction which have formed themselves, because we have been obliged,
given the regime in the party, to declare our real thoughts to it, when they
have been distorted in the press which the whole country reads” (57).

The “pacific declaration” removed the immediate danger of exclusion. The

historian Yaroslavsky writes: “The plenary assembly confined itself to a
categorical warning to the Opposition and allowed Zinoviev and Trotsky to remain
members of the Central Committee” (55). In fact it seemed that this time the
Opposition had cleverly taken advantage of the hesitations of the majority. The
vote was a set-back for Stalin, who did not get the exclusion which he demanded.
The “pacific declaration” was not a capitulation, and the isolation of the
Opposition seemed ready to relax in the party when the letter known as “the
letter of the group-stamp”, and which was baptised by Yaroslavsky “the letter of
the widow”, was circulated. It was signed by old militants, including the widow of
Sverdlov, Novgorodtseva, and demanded “mutual forgiveness” and the
formation of a Central Committee which brought together the representatives of
all the tendencies (59).

The Battle of the Platform

It remains to consider what forces were in play on August 5 to spare the leaders
of the Opposition and let them have a reprieve, what conflicts had developed
among the majority and how the general secretary had come to the end of the
compromises in his own fraction. For immediately after August 5 the press was
filled with resolutions, obviously inspired, which called for “heightened vigilance”
and called the declaration “inadequate”. There were more expulsions. Finally, the
party congress, planned for November, was deferred for a month. The Opposition
elaborated its platform, which was drafted by Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smilga
and Piatakov, with a team of younger comrades, Yakovin, Dingelstedt and Leon
Sedov, Trotsky ’s elder son. It was submitted to all the groups of the Opposition
and, wherever possible, to groups of workers. On September 6 the leaders of the
Opposition addressed the Politburo and the Central Committee complaining of
their persecution at the hands of the apparatus, in contravention of the decisions
of the plenary meeting of August. They demanded that the forthcoming congress
be loyally prepared by the publication in the press of all the documents. The
Central Committee replied by refusing to publish the platform, the elaboration of
which was regarded as “fractional”. They prohibited its circulation in the party.
Here discussion was purely and simply outlawed. The Central Committee refused,
following the declaration by Stalin, to “legitimise Trotsky ’s fraction”.

The Opposition once again had its back to the want it commented:

”It appears that the Central Committee fears discussion like the plague, that
it does not hope to defend its political line in any honest internal party
discussion … The Stalin group has decided … to put the Fifteenth Congress
together out of nothing but secretaries”.(60)

Therefore, the Opposition had to go straight ahead into illegality and, as Alsky,
Trotsky ’s collaborator was to say, “to break a way through to legality” (61). The
Opposition was to print the text of its platform and circulate it in the party and
among non-party people, to collect a mass of signatures in support of it, and,
despite the prohibition, to hold gatherings and meetings, and in this way to force
the recognition of its “legality”; such finally was the only way out, the break-
through, as in the autumn of 1926, but with no possibility of retreat, without any
possible outcome but “legitimisation” or exclusion.

Hardly had the decision been taken when repression struck. On the night of the
12th and 13th of September 1927, the agents of the GPU uncovered “the illegal
print shop” of the Opposition. This was managed by the Old Bolshevik
Mratchkovsky, who was arrested and excluded with fourteen other militants, as
well as Preobrazhensky and Serebriakov, who publicly accepted responsibility for
the enterprise. Under orders, the newspapers announced that a “plot” had been
uncovered, in which a White Guard, a former officer in Wrangel ’s army, was
involved with the Oppositionists. This was true: a former White Guard officer
helped the young comrades of the Opposition to roneotype the text of the
Platform. What the papers did not tell, but what Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev
forced the head of the GPU, Menzhinsky, to admit, as he confirmed before the
Central Committee, was that this White Guard officer, whose name was Stroilov,
was working in relation to the provocateur Tverskoy, had become an officer in the
GPU, and under the orders of Tverskoy was mounting an organised provocation—
because it was he who offered the means of distributing the Platform to the
young Oppositionist Shterbatov. At the Central Committee Stalin was to admit the
facts and to try to justify the provocation:

”The Opposition has made a great song and dance about the former Wrangel
officer, to whom the allies of the Opposition addressed themselves, being
exposed as an agent of the CPU. But what is wrong about the same Wrangel
officer helping the Soviet power to uncover counter-revolutionary
conspiracies? Who can dispute the right of the Soviet power to draw round
itself former officers in order to use them to unmask counter-revolutionary
conspiracies?” (62).

But the newspapers were evidently not to give the second part of the story the
same coverage as they had given the first: the “myth of the ‘Wrangel officer ’ was
broadcast throughout the land, poisoning the minds of millions of party members
and tens of millions of non-party people” (63). It added a dimension to the
accusations about counter-revolutionary activities, and enabled attention to be
diverted from the questions which the Opposition raised. Trotsky appeared
before the Executive of the International on September 27: among those who
judged him sat Marcel Cachin, who had collaborated with the bourgeois
government during the war, the chief editor of L ’Humanité , who had hailed
Chiang Kai-shek as the “hero of the Shanghai Commune” Trotsky cudgelled them,
pointing out that they wanted to exclude him, when they had forgotten to
exclude Chiang Kai-Shek and Wang Ching-wei, who were still “associate
members”, despite the massacres of workers and peasants. “Not a single
organism”, he said, “discusses and takes decisions today: they do nothing but
carry out the decisions, and the Presidium of the Executive of the International is
no exception”. Of course, he, like Vuyovitch, was excluded (64).

None the less, the Opposition had succeeded in getting its Platform printed in a
state printing plant, the director of which was arrested. Thirty thousand copies,
according to the Politburo, and 12,000 according to the Opposition, of which the
greatest part were seized. Under the cover of a literary work, “The Road of the
Struggle”, by Furmanov, it began to circulate. Zinoviev and Kamenev counted on
20,000 to 30,000 signatures to make Stalin retreat. But after the first thousand
progress was slow.

At the same time, people ’s fears had to be overcome. On that road the
Opposition won some success. Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Smilga vent into
the working-class quarters in Leningrad and Moscow, to speal to groups of tens
of workers crowded in the tiny dwellings. Then, with their ranks strengthened,
they opened up a public campaign, and held meetings despite the activities of the
toughs whom the apparatus mobilised in every district to stop them. They were
careful to point out that they were compelled, obliged to work illegally, and the
heads of the Opposition demanded halls to meet in and occupied them when they
were refused. In this way they were able to hold a real meeting in a lecture hall in
the Higher Technical School in Moscow, which they occupied by surprise. The
electricity was cut off, and Kamenev and Trotsky spoke by candlelight for two
hours to an audience of two thousand people, while a large crowd walked about
outside the packed hall. A similar operation was prepared in Leningrad, to occupy
a hall in the Palace of Labour, where Radek and Zinoviev were to speak. But
Zinoviev disappeared at the last moment and Radek refused to speak alone. Their
supporters came simply to demonstrate at an official conference of metal-
workers. At Kharkov Rakovsky spoke in public to three hundred workers, in an
unauthorised meeting. Trotsky spoke at two factories in Moscow where the
Opposition had supporters.

All these results were encouraging and the Opposition thought for a moment that
it had realised its aim and succeeded in breaking through; the mass of the party
began to take an interest in its arguments. Certain leaders were even to believe
that success was near when, on October 17 in Leningrad, during the celebration of
the jubilee of the Central Committee, Zinoviev and Trotsky, who were not on the
official speakers ’ platform, were welcomed by workers who gathered round
them. Victor Serge says that the two leaders believed that the situation was
turning back in their favour: ‘The masses are with us ’, they said that evening” (65).
Zinoviev was to write: “It is the most important event in the party for the last two
years … of enormous political significance.” (66). In Trotsky ’s autobiography, he
qualifies this optimistic appreciation, and says that, in his opinion, this platonic
demonstration of sympathy revealed the discontent of the Leningrad workers,
but not a determination to fight against the apparatus (67). The opinion according
to which the leaders of the Opposition took their desires for reality and
interpreted cheerful welcomes on a holiday as a political demonstration cannot
be accepted unreservedly. It seems likely that Zinoviev was right when he argued
that this demonstration had made Stalin anxious and decided to act more quickly.
There can be no dispute that, from that moment onwards, he showed a great
haste to finish off the Opposition.

At the same time, the Central Committee was hearing Kirov propose the
programme for the tenth anniversary of the revolution, in which were included
the five-day week and the seven-hour day. The Opposition protested that this was
“pure demagogy”, and suggested that they should first try to operate the eight-
hour day, which most often remained on paper, and that the lowest wages be
raised. And it voted against. At once Pravda and the official propaganda seized
upon this vote to “unmask” once more an opposition which claimed to be
“proletarian” and opposed measures favourable to the working class. The tone is
conveyed by Yaroslavsky, the official historian: “The shameful vote of the
Trotskyists against the seven hours reveals better than all their declarations the
Menshevik character of the Opposition” (65).

On this point the Opposition lost ground. The official flood drowned its protests
and arguments. For the defence of the workers ’ interests was practically the only
point in the Platform which was understood and approved outside the thin layer
of its sympathisers. This was the atmosphere in which Stalin was to demand again
from the Central Committee (of October 21—23) that Trotsky and Zinoviev be
excluded. The tale of these scenes of savagery has been told many times, with
Trotsky speaking, protected by his friends, insulted and threatened. Books,
inkwells and a glass were thrown at him. He contemptuously hammered his

”The fundamental character of our leadership today is its belief that violent
methods can achieve anything—even in relation to its own party … Your
books—one cannot read them any more, but they can still serve to knock
people down” (69).

Be said that Stalin now wanted to draw “a line of blood” between the Opposition
and the party; be forecast the massacres and the purges and ended;

”You can exclude us. You wall not prevent us from being victorious”.

Stalin remained as calm as Trotsky in this assembly of unchained demons, and

answered Zinoviev, who had raised Lenin ’s Testament and the postscript about
Stalin ’s brutality:

”Yes, I am brutal, comrades, with those who work brutally and disloyally to
ruin an to split the party. I have never hidden it” (70).

In Stalin ’s opinion, the Opposition had been supported “against its will and its
wishes by anti-Soviet elements”, as the affair of the printing press had shown. The
Opposition was taking the road of a split. It had to be struck down. Zinoviev and
Trotsky were excluded from the Central Committee, defeated.

None the less the battle went on. Ivan Nikitich Smirnov succeeded in speaking at
the members ’ meeting in Moscow, but Kamenev and Rakovsky were driven off
the platform, as were Bakayev and Yevdokimov in Leningrad the same day. Pravda
announced that the Opposition had received one vote against 2,500 in Moscow
and none against 6,000 in Leningrad. It was to be well and truly driven out of the
party, because it is certain that from that time onwards its spokesmen would not
address the Congress. It lost the battle of signatures and already knew that it
would not even submit the full list of signatures to the Politburo, to avoid all its
forces being struck by repression.

On November 4 the leading centre of the Opposition met at Smilga ’s house.

Kamenev was in the chair. Divergences showed themselves between Trotsky,
who wanted to fight on to the end because there remained nothing to expect,.
and Zinoviev, who was thinking again about a compromise. In the end the
memory of the demonstration of October 17 won the day. They decided that on
November 7 the Opposition would take part in the official procession, with its
own slogans: “Down with Opportunism!”, “Fulfil Lenin ’s Testament!”, “Beware
of a Split!”, “Maintain Bolshevik Unity!” and “Down with the Kulak, the Nepman
and the Bureaucratt”. On November 5 the Central Control Commission had up
Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky and Smilga and demanded that they give up their
plan. Smilga replied that they must guarantee freedom of opinion before they laid
down conditions.

Both sides prepared well for the demonstration of November 7, but the
Opposition, a courageous handful of fighters amid the indifferent mass, were
beaten in advance. There are few details about the defeat of the Opposition ’s
demonstration at Kharkov, where Rakovsky led men into the street. At Leningrad
they made their way with their banners as far as the official platform, and were
then adroitly diverted by the stewards, who cut them off from the crowd and held
Zinoviev and Radek until everyone had gone home. There were some skirmishes
between the militia and several hundreds of demonstrators, led by Bakayev and
Lashevich in uniform. Matters were more serious in Moscow: the demonstrators
for the Opposition were dispersed in small groups in the crowd which converged
on Red Square, and displayed placards and banners to the number of over a
hundred (according to the estimate of someone who deserted the Opposition),
which were immediately smashed or torn up by the activists posted along the
road, who then surrounded those who were carrying them. Immediately
afterwards the groups which had been located in this way were dispersed and
beaten up, and some demonstrators were arrested. One commando made its way
into the House of the Soviets, where Smilga had tied to the balcony of his flat a
banner with pictures of Lenin and Trotsky. The militants who were there were
beaten. The same incidents took place at the Grand Paris hotel, where
Preobrazhensky, who was in charge of the demonstration, was heavily beaten.
Trotsky travelled to it in a car and tried to address a column of workers in the
Place of the Revolution. He was immediately surrounded by militiamen and
shouted down. A shot rang out, breaking the windows of the car, and he bad to

That evening the defeat was crowned. In all the meetings of Oppositionists, the
“Trotskyists” and the “Zinovievists” already confronted each other. Zinoviev said:
“Lev Davidovich, the time has come to have the courage to surrender”. The old
lion replied: “If that kind of courage were enough, the revolution would be world
wide” (71). On November 15 they were all excluded together from the party.
Rakovsky, Yevdikomov, Smilga and Kamenev were excluded from the Central
Committee. On November lf Trotsky ’s old friend, Adolph Joffe, incurably sick,
committed suicide in a gesture of protest. The leaders of the Opposition spoke for
the last time, at Joffe ’s graveside, before their supporters, on the 19th. According
to Trotsky, there were 10,000 present, and according to Serge “several
thousand”. ‘Trotsky said: “The struggle goes on; each of us remains at his post”.
At the graveside, Rakovsky took the oath on behalf of those present to follow the
banner of the revolution to the end.

The Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU

Meanwhile the Congress was being prepared, based completely on the struggle
against the Opposition. The speeches of the leaders of the majority indicated the
tone which was to prevail there. Tomsky declared:

”Stalin is not at all happy with the role of leader … The efforts of the
Opposition came down to presenting him as an obscure malefactor and the
members of the Central Committee and the Politburo as cringing lackeys,
whom he manipulates as he pleases. Beneath him there would be the
apparatus of the functionaries, who tremble before him, and, lover down
still, the other members tremble before the branch secretaries …. What a
ridiculous hypothesis! A fable that no one could credit. How could a party in
which anyone goes in fear of anyone else lead a great state?”

Tomsky addressed his former comrades, who he now accused of wanting to form
a “second party”, and coined the expression which history was to attribute to
Bukharin: “Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is possible for two, three or
even four parties to exist, but only on condition that one is in power and all the
others are in prison” (72). Bukharin was no less precise: “We have already had here
every form of struggle except an armed uprising … when there have already been
efforts to organise strikes, the only thing left is armed uprising” (73).

When the Congress opened on December 2, it was already known that the
apparatus was demanding unconditional capitulation and total renunciation.
Stalin said:

”The Opposition must surrender unconditionally and totally, both on the

political and the organisational level …. They must renounce their anti-
Bolshevik views, openly and before the whole world. They must denounce
the crimes which they have committed against the party, openly and before
the whole world” (74).

It was clear the next day that the Opposition was beginning to break up. Rakovsky
refused to make any “self-criticism” and was driven off the platform. On the other
hand, Kamenev was listened to. His speech was both poignant and courageous; it
already foreshadowed the end of the Bolsheviks. He said: “We must find the way
out to reconciliation”. The road of the “second party” would be ruinous for the
revolution”. “It was excluded by the whole of our ideas and by all Lenin ’s
teaching about the dictatorship of the proletariat”. “The only way which remains
is to submit to the decisions of the Congress, however hard they may appear”.
However, at the same time, Kamenev appealed to the Congress not to press his
comrades to do what they could not do: “If we were to renounce our opinions,
that would not be Bolshevik. Comrades, the demand to renounce our personal
opinions has never yet been expressed in our party … If I have to come here
today and say: I renounce the views which have been printed in my documents a
fortnight ago, you would not believe me. It would be hypocrisy on my part. Such
hypocrisy is not necessary. Stretch out a helping hand to us” (75).

But the Congress Commission was not to be persuaded. It insisted that the
Oppositionists must explicitly condemn the ideas of the Opposition.
Ordzhonikidze, speaking on his own behalf on December 10, complained that
these “former Bolsheviks” were forcing the party to inflict such serious
punishments; he proposed that they be excluded because they had not
condemned the policy of the Opposition. Rakovsky, Radek and Muralov declared
that in no circumstances would they cease to defend their ideas as individuals. But
the Zinovievists weakened: Kamenev, Bakayev and Yevdokimov agreed to submit.
In their name, Kamenev gave the assurance: “We are obliged to bend our will
before the judgements of the party, which is the only supreme judge of what is
useful or harmful in the forward march of the revolution” (76).

However, the apparatus insisted on still more. The “History of the Communist
Party (Bolsheviks) of the USSR” (1935) was to provide a justification for this
insistence. The party:

”laid down a certain number of conditions for their re-integration. The

expellees must; a) openly condemn Trotskyism as an anti-Bolshevik, anti-
Soviet ideology; b) openly recognise that the policy of the party is the only
correct one; c) submit without reserve to the decisions of the party and its
institutions; d) undergo a period of probation, during which the party will
check on the authors of the declaration, at the end of which it will consider
separately the re-admission of each of them, in the light of the results of the
check. The party expected that the public recognition of all these points by
the expellees would in any case have a positive importance for the party,
because it would break the unity of the Trotskyist-Zinovievist ranks, would
disorganise their milieu, would demonstrate once again the power of the
party and its firm foundation, would permit the party, if the authors of the
declaration were acting in good faith, to take its former members back and,
in the case of bad faith, to denounce them in the eyes of all, not as mistaken
people, but as unprincipled adventurers, people who want to deceive the
working class, self-exposed frauds” (77).

When the former Oppositionists subjected themselves to these requirements,

they ipso facto surrendered all personal thought and, consequently, any future
divergence from the leadership, however minimal. They were required to
surrender utterly and unconditionally, to commit political suicide. They spent
another week in discussion, after which they decided, on December 15, to
capitulate and to condemn the ideas of the Opposition—their ideas—as
“erroneous and anti-Leninist”. Bukharin was wild with joy. He congratulated
them: “You have done well. It was time; the iron curtain of History was about to
fall” (75). This final recantation, moreover, won them little enough mercy: the
Central Committee decided to examine their applications for re-admission in six
months ’ time. They remained excluded. Rakovsky, Smilga, Radek and Muralov
declared on the same day:

“Excluded from the party, we shall do our utmost to return to it. We are
exclude for our ideas. We consider our ideas to be those of Bolshevism and
Leninism. We cannot give them up” (79).

The Two Roads

In this way the alliance of Zinoviev and Kamenev with Trotsky came to an end.
Despite their repugnance and after long agonising they finished by repudiating
themselves in front of Stalin, doing what they had demanded in vain that Trotsky
should do in 1924 in front of the troika of which they were then part. Themselves
“bureaucrats” and “apparatus men”, they had failed in their revolt. Did they try to
win forgiveness and earn pardon (as Trotsky thought) by helping Stalin to
liquidate Trotsky more quickly, by isolating him? In fact Pravda published, on
January 27, 1925, a letter from them attacking the “Trotskyists”. However, such a
calculation presupposes that they had analysed the situation. So did they under-
estimate the depth of the transformation undergone by the party in which
Kamenev had believed “witch trials” to be impossible? Did they think that they
must remain in the party at all costs in anticipation of an easy reversal of the
situation, in order to be there at the decisive moment? Or did they, on the
contrary, think that there would be no other perspective for decades but the
bureaucratic restriction and strait-jacket? Did they think that their political and
personal safety lay, as Zinoviev is reported to have said, in “going ward on their
stomachs, if necessary, but going forward in the party”? It is impossible to answer
these questions today. One fact, however, we possess: the two Old Bolsheviks
certainly did not foresee the road strewn with capitulations which was opening up
in front of them—and which, less than ten years later, was to lead them to
accusing themselves of the foulest crimes, in the dock in new witch trials.

The irreconcilables did not follow them. Like Trotsky, Rakovsky, Smilga, Muralov
and Radek formally condemned the perspective of “a new party”. Like Zinoviev
and Kamenev, they believed that the party would be able to regenerate itself and
to free itself from” “its parasitic excrescence”, the bureaucracy. But they did not
believe that they could possible assist the regeneration by staying in the party at
any price. Rakovsky declared: “For us to abstain from defending our ideas would
mean that we give them up; we would fail in our most elementary duty to the
party and to the working class” (79).

The fissure which had separated the two principal groups in the Opposition at the
beginning of 1926 had thus become a gulf. When Zinoviev and Kamenev expected
victory, Trotsky foresaw the worst, the slanders and the physical extermination.
He prepared himself for a long struggle, and was not sure that he knew its
outcome: he told Victor Serge, “Our duty is to exhaust every possibility of
regeneration; we can finish like Lenin or like Liebknecht. We must rise to the level
of either eventuality” (50) This is, no doubt, the explanation of what historians
have called an attitude of “political suicide” and in which they have often seen no
more than hesitations and contradictions. The European revolution had failed.
The USSR was isolated for a long time. The Stalinist leadership compromised the
chances of victory of proletarian revolutions to come. But the pendulum of
history would swing back sooner or later in the direction of the revolution. From
now until then it was necessary to hold on, “to preserve the revolutionary
traditions, to maintain contact with the advanced elements in the party, to
analyse the development of the Thermidorean period and to prepare for the next
revolutionary upheaval, in the world as well as in the USSR” (51).

In a word, it was no longer today but tomorrow for which they had to fight, to
pre- serve for the day, when the masses would again take their destiny into their
own hands, the heritage of Bolshevism which had been corrupted and which
would otherwise be destroyed by the Stalinists.

Were these “irreconcilables” correct to try “to exhaust the possibilities of a

regeneration”? To be sure, it is easy today to criticise their illusions and to senile at
their “fetishistic” fear of a restoration of capitalism. The fact is that the road was
still long. The fifteen hundred “Trotskyists” who had been excluded from the
party, the hundreds, soon to be thousands, of Oppositionists who went to Siberia,
following Trotsky, who was deported to Alma Ata on January 17, 1925, following
Preobrazhensky, Rakovsky, Smilga, Serebriakov and Sapronov, were no more
than an advance guard. After them, nearly the whole of the Bolsheviks of the
revolution, old and young, were to follow that same road, whatever may have
been their position in the great political battle of 1926—27.


1. The document is published in “Fourth International”, Vol. 2, No. 5, October 1941, pp. 252—3.

2. L. Trotsky, “The Case of Leon Trotsky”, p. 245.

3. Quoted in Deutscher, “The Prophet Unarmed”, p. 255—6.

4. “Fourth International”, ibid, p. 253.

5. Ralph Fisher, “Pattern for Soviet Youth”, p. 545.

6. Quoted in Trotsky, “The Case of Leon Trotsky”, pp. 51—2.

7. Trotsky, “Stalin”, p. 417.

5. Trotsky ’s letter to I. N. Smirnov is published in “La Lutte des Classes”, No. 6, August—September
1925, pp. 163—4.

9. Deutscher, op. cit., p. 265.

10. Victor Serge, “Memoires d ’un Revolutionnaire”, p. 209.

11. Trotsky, “My Life”, Penguin ed., p. 544.

12. A. Barmin, “Vignt Ans au Service de l ’URSS”, Paris, 1939, p. 244—5.

13. Quoted in Deutscher, op. cit., p. 254.

14. Pravda , November 3, 1926, quoted in R. Daniels, “The Conscience of the Revolution”, p. 291.

15. See “La Lutte des Classes”, 1927—25; Naville and Sizoff, “L ’Economie Sovietique”, pp. 455—
460, and Serge, “Vers l ’Industrialisation”, No. 15, pp. 435ff and No. 16, pp. 456—5.

16. Quoted in Deutscher, op. cit., p. 275.

17. R. Daniels, “Documentary History of Communism”, Vol. 1, pp. 250—257.

15. Correspondance Internationale, No. 57, July 31, 1926, pp. 950—1.
19. Correspondance Internationale, No. 114, October 23, 1926.

20. The letter to Muralov dated September 11, 1925, is published in “New International”, November
1934, pp. 125—6.

21. For Trotsky ’s declarations about Eastman ’s book, see Correspondance Internationale, No. 72,
July 22, 1925 and No. 52, August 22, 1925.

22. V. Serge, “Vie et Mort de Trotsky”, p. 151.

23. Cahiers du Bolshevisme, Special Number, December 20, 1926, pp. 2177—2122.

24. Ibid., pp. 2222—2245.

25. Ibid., pp. 2245—2270.

26. Ibid., pp. 2274—2292.

27. Ibid., pp. 2292—2313.

25. Ibid., pp. 2176—2315.

29. Quoted in Deutscher, op. cit., p. 303.

30. Cahiers du Bolshevisme, op. cit., p. 2127.

31. Ibid., pp. 2270—2274.

32. Quoted in Yaroslavsky, “Histoire du PC de l ’URSS”, p. 452.

33. Correspondance Internationale, No. 143, December 29, 1926, p. 1567.

34. Quoted in Yaroslavsky, op. cit., p. 452.

35. Novosty Jisny, October 19, 1926, quoted by Kamenev, see Correspondance Internationale, No.
11, January 24, 1927, p. 156.

36. The text is in “Fourth International”, No. 5, 1941, pp. 251—2.

37. Trotsky, “Stalin”, p. 403.

35. Harold R. Isaacs, “The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution”, p. 56.

39. Bukharin, “Problems of the Chinese Revolution”, pp. 50—51.

40. Isaacs, op. cit., p. 55.

41. Stalin ’s thesis is published in full in International Press Correspondence,

April 25, 1927, immediately after the Eighth Plenum of the ECCI.

42. Isaacs, op. cit., p. 119.

43. Isaacs, op. cit., p. 112.

44. Ibid., p. 136.

45. Ibid., p. 162.

46. Bukharin, op. cit., p. 57.

47. Quoted in Isaacs, op. cit., p. 155.

45. Bukharin, op. cit., p. 57.

49. Deutscher, op. cit., pp. 334—335, quoted from Trotsky ’s Archives.

50. Quoted in Isaacs, op. cit., pp. 241—255.

51. V. Serge, “Memoires d ’un Revolutionnaire”, pp. 212—3.

52. Ibid., p. 214.

53. Deutscher, op. cit., p. 340, quoted from Trotsky ’s Archives.

54. Ibid, p. 343.

55. Correspondance Internationale, No. 54, August 13, 1927.

56. Deutscher, op. cit., p. 353, quoted from Trotsky ’s Archives.

57. Correspondance Internationale, No. 55, August 15, 1927, pp. 1166—7.

55. Quoted in Yaroslavsky, op. cit., p. 457.

59. Correspondance Internationale, No. 55, August 15, 1927, p. 1169.

60. R. Daniels, “The Conscience of the Revolution”, p. 312, quoted from Trotsky ’s Archives.

61. Quoted by Kritchevsky, in Correspondance Internationale, No. 127, December 21, 1927, p. 1949.

62. Correspondence Internationale, No. 114, November 12, 1927, p. 1642.

63. “New International”, Vol. 1, No. 4, November 1934, pp. 120—124.

64. Correspondence Internationale, No. 101, October 5, 1927, p. 1425.

65. V. Serge, op. cit., p. 214.

66. Pravda . November 2, 1927, quoted in Sorlin, “Lenin, Trotsky, Staline”, Paris 1962, p. 212.

67. Trotsky, “My Life”, p. 556.

65. Quoted in Yaroslavsky, op. cit., p. 474—5.

69. Quoted in V. Serge, op. cit., p. 220.

70. Quoted in R. Daniels, op. cit., p. 315.

71. Serge, op. cit., p. 226.

72. Correspondance Internationale, No. 120, December 3, 1927, p. 1755.

73. Ibid., p. 1754.

74. Quoted in R. Daniels, op. cit., pp. 315—9.

75. Correspondance Internationale, No. 125, 1927, p. 1965.

76. Correspondance Internationale, No. 3, January 11, 1925, p. 54.

77. “Histoire du PC(b) de l ’URSS”, ed. 1949, p. 321.

75. Quoted in Deutscher, op. cit., p. 355.

79. Correspondance Internationale, No. 3, January 11, 1925, p. 53.

50. Quoted in V. Serge, op. cit., p. 216.

51. Trotsky, “Stalin”, p. 404.

Translator ’s Note: The reader may be interested to know that, since this was written, an important
work has appeared in English on the General Strike and the Anglo-Russian Joint Trade Union
Committee. This is “The United Front: the TUC and the Russians (1925—1925)”, by Daniel F.
Calhoun, Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Chapter XI: The Right Opposition

While the political conflict was developing at the front of the stage, the party
continued its slow transformation. The census of January 1927 revealed that 30%
of its members were workers, 161 were peasants, 8% were members of the armed
forces and 38.5% were functionaries. A report to the Central Committee on
January 28, 1927, revealed that, of the 638,000 party members returned as
“workers” in 1927, 184,000 were in reality functionaries. In this way, the
phenomenon developed which the report called “the exodus of the working class
into the state apparatus”. The real apparatus had doubled since 1924. We may
estimate the number of apparatchiki , the permanent officials of the party, at
around 30,000, born from the reflux of the masses more than from any initiative
by Stalin, as has too often been suggested, but who, by their methods and
attitude of mind created only cadres in their own image, very different from the
Bolsheviks of the heroic period.

In this sense, the defeat of the Opposition was effectively the defeat of the spirit
of Bolshevism in the persons of the last people to retain revolutionary
enthusiasm. None the less, the hasty efforts to eliminate them show by
themselves how complex the new social and political relations were. The
apparatus derived its omnipotence from its role as arbiter. This role the conflict of
contradictory social forces within the party forced upon it. But the coalition which
supported the apparatus against the revolutionary proletarian wing was far from
being homogeneous. In reality it brought together elements with divergent aims
in a provisional coalition against a common danger, but determined to settle
accounts with each other after their shared victory. Trotsky analysed three
groupings in the leadership in 1926: that of the trade union bureaucrats
represented by Tomsky; that of the pure right, which expressed the pressure of
the peasant mass, and, finally, that of the apparatus, the centre, expressed by
Stalin and Kirov (1). The defeat of the Unified Opposition made the outbreak of
the conflict inevitable, because the centre could not tolerate a situation which
made it the hostage of the right. The pressure of events and, especially, the
economic difficulties, led the apparatus immediately after the Fifteenth Congress
to open the struggle against the right. It must be admitted, about this right, that
between the pressure of the peasantry and the fear of adventures which every
fraction of the bureaucracy shared, it also expressed, in a deformed way, and in a
way more re mote than the Unified Opposition, the echoes of the time when the
Bolshevik party drew its strength from its discussions and the discipline which it
voluntarily accepted.

The Crisis of the Food Supply: the Turn to the Left

The leadership had maintained at the Fifteenth Congress the line which Bukharin
had recommended ever since 1924, as against the Opposition which forecast the
worst of catastrophes and warned of the danger of capitalist restoration
emerging from the progress of the rich peasant and the slow pace of industrial
development. Stalin had made clumsy jokes there about the “panic-mongers”,
who knew all the time that the Nep meant strengthening the kulaks, and cried out
“Hell)! Murder!” and blanched with fear as soon as the kulaks stuck their noses
into a corner. For all that, the situation was no better; at the end of 1927 official
sources admitted that there were 1,700,000 unemployed, while half a million
people were employed simply to keep the accounts of state industry. Above all,
shortages re-appeared in the cities. The area sown was greater than in any year
since the war, the harvests of 1925, 1926 and 1927 were among the best that
Russia had ever had, but the grain deliveries were lover by half than they had
been in 1926.

With the coming of winter, the first incidents broke out between grain collectors
and peasants who demanded in vain a rise in grain prices. The difficulties
increased at the end of the year, when the rich peasants, who could wait, tired of
selling their crop without being able to buy industrial products in exchange and
held back their surplus to wait for a better price. At the beginning of January the
evidence could not be ignored. The quantity of grain delivered to the market was
down by a quarter. The cities were threatened with famine in the months to
come, all the more so because the local party and Soviet leaderships were
educated in denouncing “Trotskyist under-estimation of the peasantry” and were
afraid to resort to measures of coercion, which could earn them the serious
charge of having contributed to “breaking the alliance between the workers and
the peasants”.

On January 6, 1928, the Politburo decided on “emergency measures”, in the face

of the grave problem of the food supply. These measures were communicated to
the party, but were not published. The most radical was the order to apply Article
107 of the criminal code summarily to kulaks who held back stocks. This order
envisaged that stocks would be confiscated and, in order to facilitate detection, it
undertook that a quarter of the grain so collected would be distributed to the
poor peasants of the village. Even so, the results were disappointing. On February
15 the decision had to be taken to mount a real mobilisation. Pravda published a
speech by Stalin, editorially revealing the existence of the crisis and the “turn”:
“The kulak is raising his head!”. A whole series of emergency measures was
adopted, this time officially and publicly. Stocks were to be confiscated under
Article 107; there were to be forced loans labelled “laws of self-imposition”, the
control and enforcement of bread prices was stiffened and direct trade with the
village was forbidden. The Pravda article denounced the appearance in the party
and in the state of:

"...certain elements, alien to the party, who do not perceive the classes in the
village, who seek to carry out their work without offending anyone in the
village and to live in peace with the kulak and in general to retain their
popularity with every social layer in the village”.

This was a call to battle, in the party, against the “kulak ideology”, which the
Unified Opposition had been denouncing for years, but the existence of which
had always been denied. The grain war began again in earnest; this time it was
waged without weakness. Over ten thousand city dwellers were mobilised and
sent into the countryside to put an end to the “campaign of hoarding”. The
apparatus of the co-operatives and of the party was thoroughly purged in the
regions where the hoarding was taking place.

There were many sharp incidents in the countryside. Bukharin was to tell
Kamenev of over five hundred peasant rising having to be suppressed in six
months. The use of force to collect grain in the countryside, the fear of famine in
the cities and the cries of alarm from the leadership seemed to point to a return
to war communism in town and country alike. The young Communist workers
who were mobilised went off to the battle to feed their brethren and to heat
down the class-enemy. The middle peasants feared their attack no less than did
the kulaks. The whole village was aroused.

The results of the collections permitted the forecast that the worst had been
averted, and the Central Committee in April 1928 condemned “the distortions and
excesses which the party and Soviet organs at the base have committed”. It
cancelled the prohibition of private trading, forbade any confiscation except
under Article 107 and abolished the compulsory loans and the patrols which
monitored the trading in grain. The Central Committee recognised that its fiscal
policy had failed to check the growth of the economic power of the kulaks, who
“today exert a considerable influence on the market as a whole”. It denied that it
had wished to revive the “compulsory levies” of war Communism. Stalin declared:

”Nep is the basis of our economic policy and will continue to be so for a long
period of history.”
Rykov acknoledged that the brain crisis has caught the party leaders unawares. At
the same time, the accent on strengthening discipline and mobilising the forces in
the economy indicates that some were wishing to follow a policy which turned its
back on Nep.

At the end of April 1928 the grain crisis seemed to recur. Pravda called, on April 26,
for no relaxation of the “class-pressure” on the kulaks. The emergency measures
were re-imposed. Soon the press was to head-line a case of “sabotage” in the
Donetz coal mines, in order to sound the alarm unceasingly and to warn the
workers against “the new forms and methods of the struggle of the bourgeoisie
against the workers ’ state and the socialist industrialisation”.

In fact the turn to the left during the grain crisis was the beginning of a turn in
general policy. At the end of May, in a public speech, Stalin traced the outlines of
a policy which was no longer that of the Fifteenth Congress, particularly in his
statement that, in the realm of agriculture, “the solution lies in the change-over
from individual peasant farms to collective farms” and that in no circumstances
must “the development of heavy industry be slowed down and light industry,
which serves particularly the peasant market, be made the basis for industry in
general” (2). The Central Committee was to witness in July 1928 the first collision
outside the Politburo between Stalin and his opponents on the right, Bukharin,
Rykov and Tomsky, the opening of the last great nearly-public conflict within the

The Positions of Bukharin

The positions of the Right found an eloquent spokesman in Bukharin. The

experience of the years which had passed since his first great debate with
Preobrazhensky had not been lost on him. His right-ist positions, which he
defended in the leading bodies (an in various articles, notably in “Notes of an
Economist”, which appeared in Pravda , September 1), 1928) had been corrected
and refined. The incorrigible polemicist began by underlining the growing contrast
between the need of the masses “to get to the heart of things” and the raw,
stale, hardly warmed-up spiritual nourishment that was being offered to them”
(3). The party was riddled with empiricism and always lagging behind events, in
this respect like the peasant who only crosses himself when he hears thunder.
Bukharin ’s aim was to investigate the general laws of development of society in
transition in countries possessing a reactionary petty bourgeois population with a
hostile periphery, in order to be able to act upon them” (4). He observed that the
advance of production was accompanied by repeated “crises of a special kind;
these reproduced capitalist crises only in appearance, because they presented
some opposite characteristics and, in particular, “the shortage of goods” instead
of over-production. He drew the conclusion that one can determine for a society
in a period of transition the schema of reproduction, that is, the conditions of an
exact, mutual co-ordination of the different spheres of production, or, in other
words, establish the conditions for dynamic economic equilibrium. Essentially the
task of working out a national economic plan, more and more resembling a
balance-sheet of the whole economy, lies there, a consciously outlined plan,
which will at one and the same time be a forecast and a directive” (5).

This analysis led Bukharin to think that crises were not inevitable in the transition
period. Indeed, they could reflect, on the one hand, the socialist tendency of the
new economy, the main-spring of which would be the growth of needs, and which
contains no fundamental antagonism. On the other hand, the sharp crises could
result only from the relative anarchy, the relative absence (that is) of a plan, which
is inevitable only to the extent that the economy of the Nep rests on the
existence of “small economies”, and in which the production of grain on an
individual basis would constitute an “anarchic” factor. He deduced that:

” … to obtain as favourable a course of social reproduction and of the

systematic growth of socialism as possible, and, consequently, a relation of
class forces as favourable to the proletariat as possible, it is necessary to
make the effort to find a combination as correct as possible of the basic
elements of the national economy, to put them into balance, to allocate
them in the most rational possible way; it is necessary to influence actively
the process of economic life and the class-struggle” (6).

Within this perspective, the current problem of the conflict between town and
country could be studied, in the light of their relations within the framework of
capitalism. History showed that the strength and the scale of industrial
development had reached their maximum in USA, where neither feudal relations
nor landrents existed, and where the market for industry was provided by the
better-off farmers. Accordingly, Bukharin argued that Russia should be placed in
the same category as America, in opposition to the Trotskyists, who wanted to
put Russian agriculture into the category of pre-revolutionary Russia:

It is not by snatching every year the maximum of resources from the

peasants, in order to put them into industry, that we shall ensure the highest
rate of industrial development. The highest long-term rate of growth will be
obtained by a combination, in which industry would grow on the basis of an
economy which itself is rapidly growing” (7).

To put it another way, Bukharin always thought that: “the development of

industry depends on capitalist development”, but he heavily stressed that, at the
same time, “the development of agriculture depends on that of industry, i.e.,
agriculture without tractors or chemical fertilisers, or without electrification, is
doomed to stagnate. It is industry which is the lever for the great transformation
of agriculture” (8). He considered the grain crisis from this viewpoint. The stability
of the grain production had prepared for it, and its main signs had been the
growing disproportion between grain prices and the prices of other, technical
crops, the rise in the incomes of peasants from non-agricultural sources, the
insufficient deliveries of industrial products to the village and the growing
economic influence of the kulak. The authoritarian maintenance of low grain
prices led automatically to stagnation and then to a decline in grain production.
The policy of “pressurising” was directly responsible for the grain crisis, and,
consequently, for slowing-up industrialisation. One could not, therefore, counter-
pose the development of industry to that of agriculture or of grain production;
“Here the truth lies correctly in the middle” (9).

Bukharin replied to the perspectives outlined by Stalin by emphasising that the

concept of increasing production coincided effectively with that of “class-
replacement ’ which meant progressively replacing the capitalist elements in
agriculture by collectivising the individual holdings of small and middle peasants,
and passing on to large-scale enterprises. But he emphasised:

”We have here a formidable problem, which must be resolved on the basis of
the progress of the individual holdings … which requires great investment
and new technique, in addition to new management” (10).

He rejected the perspective of accelerating the rate of industrialisation, and

proposed simply to hold it unchanged during the period of restoration.

Bukharin then launched a ferocious criticism of the methods which the party had
used: “We cannot build a factory today with the bricks of tomorrow”. He stressed
that the unproductive expenditure was enormous, that productivity was low
(one-twelfth of that in US industry), that raw materials were wasted, one-an-a-half
times as much being used as in USA for the same output. He argued that these
were the factors on which to act, in order to reduce costs and, consequently, to
maintain the pace of industrialisation, without weighing heavily on the conditions
of the conditions of the workers. For this purpose, first of all, there had to be
education; the cultural level had to be raised; engineers and statisticians had to be
trained. His conclusion rings like a prophecy:

”In the pores of our gigantic apparatus, elements of bureaucratic

degeneration have found themselves places. They are completely indifferent
to the interests of the masses, to their life and to their material and cultural
interests …The functionaries are prepared to elaborate any plan, no matter
what” (11).

This was one of Bukharin ’s last public statements. In this way he condemned the
authoritarian conceptions of planning, in the name of Marx ’s economic science
itself. Any attempt to create economic resources by voluntary effort or by
compulsion could, in his opinion, result only in constructing a state which would
be alien to the spirit of socialism. In this he saw the principal factor in the
degeneration which he had forecast in 1918. In 1928, he recalled what he had said
back in 1922 to combat the idea that the proletariat could lead the entire

”If the proletariat takes on this task, it will be obliged to construct a colossal
administrative apparatus. If it is to fulfil the economic functions fulfilled by
small producers, small peasants, etc., it will need too many clerks and
administrators. The attempt to replace all these small people by bureaucrats
(chinovniki) produces an apparatus so colossal that the cost of maintaining it
will be incomparably greater than the unproductive expenses which result
from the anarchic conditions of small-scale production. The whole of this
kind of administration, the whole of the economic apparatus of the
proletarian state, not only does not encourage, but only acts as a brake upon
the development of the productive forces. It leads directly to the opposite of
what it was supposed to do. That is why an imperious necessity obliges the
proletariat to destroy it … If the proletariat does not do so, then other forces
will overthrow its domination” (12).

Bukharin ’s criticism was diametrically opposed in its premises and its immediate
analysis to those of the Left Opposition, but none the less it led him towards an
analysis of the state and of workers ’ democracy. He had already closed his
“Notes of an Economist” with a confession and an appeal: “We are far too
centralised. Could we not take some steps towards the Commune-State of
Lenin?”. On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of Lenin ’s death he wrote an
analysis of his last writings, entitled “Lenin ’s Political Testament”. He said that
the workers ’ state:

” … constitutes a certain state in the transition towards the Commune-State,

from which, unfortunately, we are very far.”

When Lenin faced this problem, he sought for levers: he said:

”We must now turn back to the deep historic source of the dictatorship; the
deepest source is the advanced workers” (13).

Bukharin also was to write, a few days earlier:

”The participation of the masses should be the fundamental guarantee

against a bureaucratisation of the group of leaders” (14).

The Oppositions at the Cross-Roads

It is in no way surprising, therefore, that a rapprochement between the right and

the left could have been considered in various quarters, not least by the
interested parties themselves. This was made easier by the fact that Trotsky and
Bukharin had kept up friendly personal relations throughout the sharpest of the
fractional struggles. None the less, the first reaction to the “turn” by the Left
Opposition was an ironic one:

”We learn—as we have already known for some time—that there exists in
the party … a strong right wing, which works towards a new Nep, that is,
towards capitalism, by stages” (15).
Preobrazhensky stressed that the “turn” confirmed the analysis of the Opposition
and demonstrated that the leadership of the party was bankrupt.

The emergency measures were, in his opinion, necessary but none the less were
not sufficient. Economic measures were needed to reduce consumption and to
satisfy the demand of the peasants for industrial products. However, Stalin soon
appeared to have decided to apply also this part of the programme of the

When the first feelings of self-satisfaction passed, the Opposition faced the
question that, if the “turn to the Left” by the apparatus was serious, had they not
gone too far in denouncing Stalin as “the protector of the kulak”? Trotsky
thought that they must now give “critical support” to Stalin ’s new policy; the
appeal to the workers and to the class struggle made easier the struggle for
internal democracy, while it liberated the energies of the proletariat when it
weakened the kulak. But the new perspectives were already dividing the
Opposition. Piatakov capitulated. He was soon imitated by the Zinovievist
Safarov, who told those who remained: “Everything is being done without us”

The wing which could not be made to yield, the Dec-ists, who thought that the
state was in the hands of the Nepmen and kulaks, refused to believe that the left-
ward course would last. They had some influence on Trotsky ’s young supporters,
who were more concerned about the extinction of all freedom of expression than
about political economy. The Oppositionists of longer standing, however, were
more and more hesitant. Preobrazhensky saw Stalin engage himself in the new
policies under the pressure of the ineluctable necessity of the “objective laws”. All
his hypotheses were confirmed. A new turn to the right seemed to him to be
impossible, to the extent that it would touch off such an explosion of pro-
capitalist elements that Stalin and Bukharin would be obliged to return to the
policies which they had followed since January 1928, in order to deal with it.

Preobrazhensky accordingly proposed to the Cpposition that it should demand

authorisation to hold a legal conference in order to discuss the situation and work
out a new line. Personally he favoured an alliance with the centre, “which reflects
the correct proletarian policy like a distorting mirror” (17). His proposal was
rejected, but his ideas continued to get support and now received that of Radek.
The latter was crushed by the defeat and by his deportation. At first he had been
greatly discouraged, and told Sosnovsky: “I cannot believe there finally remain in
all Russia only five thousand Communists, after all the work of Lenin and all the
work of the revolution.” (18). The turn to the left revived Radek ’s morale; after all,
the Stalinists were the rear-guard of the proletarian clan, of which the Opposition
was the vanguard. He too argued for a reconciliation. It was with great difficulty
that Trotsky succeeded in preserving the unity of the Opposition, and only
because the July meeting of the Central Committee seemed to mark a new turn of
the helm to the right and to close the turn to the left.
At this moment Sokolnikov arranged for Bukharin to meet Kamenev and, through
him, the Leningrad Oppositionists a little later. He thought that the policy of Stalin
was leading to disaster:

”He is an unprincipled intriguer, who subordinates everything to his thirst for

power … He has made concessions to us, so that he can cut our throats …
All he knows is revenge and a stab in the back.”

Pale, trembling and haunted by fear of the GPU, Bukharin kept on saying:

”He will kill us all. He is another Genghis Khan and will strangle us.”

Bukharin went to see Kamenev in order to try to prevent what he saw as a fatal
mistake; he did not want the friends of Zinoviev and of Trotsky to make an
alliance with Stalin at any price;

”The differences between us and Stalin are infinitely more serious than our
former differences with you.”

Moreover, it was not a question of ideas, because Stalin did not have any:

”He changes his theories to meet his need to get rid of someone at this or
that moment.”

The question was to save the party, to save socialism, and to save the lives of all
Stalin ’s opponents. Stalin had adopted, in his own way, the conclusions of
Preobrazhensky about primitive socialist accumulation. He drew the conclusion
that the more socialism advanced, the more it would run into popular resistance.
Bukharin said:

”This means a police state. But nothing will stop Stalin … He will drown
revolts in blood and denounce us as defenders of the kulaks … The root of
the whole evil is the fusion of the party and the state” (19).

To convince Kamenev, he drew up a diagram of the forces which Stalin could

command: There were Voroshilov and Kalinin, whom Stalin “held”; there was
Ordzhonikidze, who detested Stalin and would not move, but Tomsky had told
him one drunken evening that the workers would bring him down; Andreev, the
leaders in Leningrad and Yagoda, the head of the CPU, were ready to fight against

Kamenev listened to Bukharin, and then wrote to Zinoviev, advising him not to
reply with too much enthusiasm to the proposals which Stalin would be sure to
make to him. At the same time, he implored Trotsky to take a step towards
reconciliation with Stalin. Trotsky refused, on the ground that Stalin ’s policy must
be judged not only by what he was doing but also by how he was doing it. He
would support no bureaucratic combination and would accept re-integration into
the party only on the condition that internal democracy was fully restored and the
leadership elected by secret ballot. He answered Bukharin in a circular letter
dated September 12: the differences were no less than ever, but he could agree to
co-operation on one precise point, the restoration of internal democracy, and he
declared himself ready, if Bukharin and Rykov agreed, to struggle along with them
for a democratically prepared and elected Congress.

The majority of Oppositionists protested against this attitude, refusing to accept

an alliance with the Right against the Centre at the moment when the latter was
turning to the left. Would that not be, precisely, Thermidor? Since Bukharin ’s
friends, for their part, showed no sign of even beginning to bring about what
could have been a joint struggle, by appealing to the public opinion of the party as
Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky had done in 1926, Stalin could take advantage of
the hostility of the two Oppositions to each other to strike at both of them. The
Left Opposition was in crisis. Smilga, Serebriakov and Ivan Smirnov soon joined
the “conciliators”, Preobrazhensky and Radek. They all did their best to persuade
Trotsky to abandon historic attitudes and give up his splendid isolation. Trotsky,
however was convinced that time was working for his ideas. After a year of
repression, 8,000 “Oppositionists” had been deported—twice as many as
supported the Opposition at the end of 1927. In his refusal, Trotsky had the
support of Ravovsky,

Sosnovsky and the younger Oppositionists. Then the “conciliators” made their
peace; one after another, and abandoned, him. The exchanges of letters between
the exiles enables the reader to trade the accelerated decomposition of what had
been the kernel of the Opposition. After Safarov capitulated in 1928, Sosnovsky
wrote to Ilya Vardin, who had just done the same:

”I have asked Vaganian to tell you about a detail of the ritual at Jewish
funerals. At the moment when they are making ready to carry the corpse out
of the synagogue to the cemetery, a verger bends over it, addresses the
dead man by his name and says to him: ‘Know for sure that you are dead! ’
This is an excellent custom” (20).

Solntsev wrote some months later, in a letter which the GPU intercepted and
which Yaroslavsky was to publish: “Panic and confusion reign. Everyone is looking
for his individval way out”. He accused Preobrazhensky, Radek and Smilga of
having committed “unheard-of treachery”; he hinted that “I. N. (Smirnov) is on
the way to liquidation” (21). Trotsky had more resilience; he turned the page at the
end of July when he wrote:

”The capitulation of Radek, Preobrazhensky and Smilga is, in its way, a political
fact of importance. It reveals how far the great, heroic generation of
revolutionaries, whose lot it was to go through the war and the revolution, is now
worn out. Three distinguished old revolutionaries have crossed themselves out of
the world of the living” (22).

The Preliminary Battle

The battle against the Right began inside the party in the month of June 1928. The
food shortage provoked an agitation among workers. The growing opposition
supported it in the countryside, with which the workers maintained personal
contacts. In two factories in Moscow the workers protested against the
emergency measures. Uglanov, the Moscow party secretary, publicly criticised the
new line. In Leningrad the new party secretary, Kirov, ran into difficulties on the
party committee at the hands of Steplov, a pupil of Bukharin. Frumkin, the People
’s Commissar for Finance, protested against the coercive measures employed in
the grain collections; he recommended a maximum financial effort to encourage
poor peasants who joined collective farms. Stalin accused him of buckling under
kulak pressure and made him a scapegoat.

The Central Committee met in Moscow on June 4. Kalinin, Mikoyan and Molotov
stressed ’ the necessity of preserving the alliance with the middle peasant and of
admitting that the emergency measures were temporary and that grain prices
must rise. The Right seemed to be dominating the discussion. Stetsky and
Sokolnikov were in favour of concessions to the peasants and higher prices, and
Uglanov described the popular discontent. Rykov protested against the
distinction being drawn between “excesses” and “emergency measures”. Stalin
presented the current policy as a new stage of Nep, an offensive. He accused
those who opposed collectivisation of being “neither Marxists nor Leninists, but
peasant philosophers with their eyes fixed on the past”. He accused those who
claimed that the Central Committee was turning its back on Nep with having “a
kulak deviation”. Bukharin ’s speech was serious and grave: he feared a general
peasant uprising under kulak leadership and stressed, in opposition to Stalin, that
prices were one of the decisive levers by which the government could influence
individual peasants. The offensive against the kulaks should be pursued through
taxation policy. The essential thing was to do nothing that could upset the middle
peasants, because that would strengthen the kulaks. The Central Committee
carried unanimously a compromise resolution, which noted that the emergency
measures had had their effect and did away with them; it prohibited searches and
seizures and, above all, it authorised an increase in the price of bread of 20%. The
general impression was that the Right had won. Trotsky spoke of “the last phase
of Thermidor”.

The Sixth Congress of the Communist International

It was clear that Bukharin, however, had lost a great deal of ground, when the
Sixth Congress of the Comintern met in Moscow during the summer of 1928. He
was still President, but he became less and less the master of the organisation.
The International was, of course, a convenient testing-ground for groups that
were in conflict with the Russian party. The right-ist policy of the years 1925—27
had been a crying failure, as the business of the Anglo-Russian Joint Trade Union
Committee and the defeat in China had proved beyond question. Stalin did at first
try to deny this, but he could not hold this pose for long. From mid-1927 a turn
being outlined; like Brandler in 1924, Chen Du-siu in China was held responsible for
the policy which the Executive (i.e. the Politburo of the CPSU) had obliged him to
operate. We have already seen how Lominadze and Neumann—in the midst of a
retreat of the movement—launched the political offensive, which Stalin and
Bukharin had opposed when the worker and peasant masses were in the full flood
of attack.

The “turn” reflected no doubt Stalin ’s empiricism, his short views on

international matters, the improvisation characterising what Trotsky called his
“bureaucratic zigzags”. However, we should not ignore another tendency in this
new policy. It lies in taking over, for his own purposes, the principal points of the
Opposition, if only to deny that it exists. After the Canton insurrection, at the end
of 1927, the leadership of the International could shamelessly proclaim that it was
leading the Chinese Communist party on the road of Soviet revolution. Here the
short-term political interests of the apparatus co-incided with its fundamental

Up to the end of 1927 the right-ist policy of perspectiveless alliances with the
Social-Democratic parties had corresponded to the right-ist policy in the USSR.
The turn to the left and the abandonment of the united front tactic corresponded
to the turn to the left at the beginning of 1928. The leaders of the Soviet
Communist Party feared the development of oppositional currents in the foreign
parties and was to use a manoeuvre, which became classical from that time on,
and to take advantage of the real resentment of numerous advanced workers, to
turn them against leaders who chafed at its authority, to frighten the right-ists
with left-wing arguments and at the same time to deprive the left of the emotive
appeal of denunciations of compromises with “treacherous Social-Democracy”.

The Ninth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the International had met in
February, completely under the aegis of the struggle against the Opposition. The
Opposition was defeated everywhere, but sometimes held out, as in Belgium,
where the general secretary, Van Overstraeten, and the majority of the Central
Committee disapproved of the decisions of the Fifteenth Congress. The
Opposition still existed and lived everywhere.

The principal report at the Sixth Congress was presented by Bukharin. He relied
on an analysis of the relation of world forces; this presented three distinct periods
since 1917. There was the period of acute, revolutionary crisis, up to 1923. To this
followed a second period, that of capitalist reconstruction and relative
stabilisation. Since 1927 the “third period” had opened, characterised by a new
period of capitalist construction, by the beginning of socialist construction and by
a rise in the danger of war. According to Bukharin, this “objective change” obliged
the Communists tu make a “sharp turn”, the political axis of which was the new
attitude towards the social-democratic parties. Henceforth the “united front”
could be considered only “from below”. Bukharin was very uneasy about this turn
to sectarianism. He sincerely opposed it, and tried clumsily to soften its impact, by
directing the political effort of the International exclusively against Trotskyism,
which he qualified as “one of the most ignoble instruments of international social-
democracy against the Communists in the struggle for influence over the broad
masses of workers”. He declared that the issue was “a general turn”—a “left
wheel”, in the sense of a general strengthening of the struggle against right wing
social-democracy, and, in particular, against left social-democracy”! He admitted
that the “third period” would stimulate a radicalisation of the working-class in
reaction against the bourgeois offensive, but did his best to present Trotskyism as
the only danger while at the same time warning of a right-wing danger. This led
him into more acrobatics:

”It is not correct to pose the question in such a way that we have, on the one
hand, to fight against Trotskyism and, on the other hand, against the dangers
of the right … This would mean that Trotskyism represents some kind of left
deviation, alongside which right deviations exist … In nearly every country
the axis of Trotskyism is found in right-wing deviations” (23).

Bukharin ’s suppleness did not save him from much criticism. His draft resolutions
were judged to be inadequate, especially by the Russian delegation, which
submitted a whole series of amendments. He was attacked for exaggerating the
possibilities of capitalist development, for under-estimating the danger from the
right and, in particular, for conciliatory attitudes to left social-democracy, which
Thaelman denounced as “the most dangerous enemies of the workers ’
movement” (24). Thaelmann also asserted that “fascist tendencies and the germs
of fascism exist in the policies practiced by the social-democratic parties in nearly
all countries”. One of the Italian delegates, Ercoli (Togliatti), joined the discussion
to contest these “excessive generalisations”, and to come to Bukharin ’s rescue:

”Fascism is a mass movement, a movement of the small and middle

bourgeoisie and the agrarians. Moreover it has no base in a traditional
organisation of the working class. Social-Democracy, on the contrary, is a
movement based on the workers and the petty bourgeoisie, and principally
derives its strength as an organisation which the great masses of workers
recognise as the traditional organisation of their class” (25).

It was, however, Thaelmann ’s formulation, and not Ercoli ’s, which was included
in the final draft. Bukharin contented himself with stressing that they were
dealing with tendencies, and not with a finished process, and that “it would be
unreasonable to put social-democracy in the same sack as fascism” (26).

The same conflict underlay the discussion on organisation. Ercoli replied to the
ultra-centralist attack of Thaelmann, Ulbricht and others on the “right-wing

”We could adopt, as the slogan for our work in educating party leaderships,
the last words spoken by Goethe—‘More Light ’. The workers ’ vanguard
cannot in the dark. The general staff of the revolution cannot be educated in
an unprincipled fractional struggle. These are forms of struggle which consist
of the adoption of certain organisational measures. If applied without due
consideration, these measures acquire a force independent of our will and
even outside it, driving towards disorganisation and towards the dispersion
of the forces of the leadership of our parties” (27).

Bukharin took up Ercoli ’s arguments and invoked the authority of Lenin. None the
less, in September 1928, when the Central Committee of the German Communist
Party suspended Thaelmann after he had concealed from it the embezzlement of
party fund by his friend Wiltdorf, the party secretary in Hamburg, and for having
kept him i his post despite the theft, the Executive of the International censured
the Central Committee of the KPD, restored Thaelmann to all his functions and
excluded those German leaders who had regarded Thaelmann ’s conduct as un-

The International could not possibly be the means to voice any criticism of the
attitude of the Soviet Communist Party to the Opposition in these conditions.
None the less, delegates at the Sixth Congress were to get some idea of Trotsky ’s
political positions—some for the first time—by means of his Letter to the
Congress and of his Critique of the Draft Programme. Trotsky criticised Bukharin ’s
scholastic conception of stabilisation;

”The fundamental cause of the crisis of the October Revolution is the

retardation of the world revolution, caused by a whole series of cruel defeats
of the proletariat. Up to 1923, these were the defeats of the post-war
movements and insurrection confronted with the non-existence of the
communist parties at the beginning, and with their youth and weakness
subsequently. From 1923 on, the situation changed sharply. We no longer
have before us simply defeats of the proletariat, but routs of the policy of
the Comintern …” (28).

Trotsky underlined that the policy of the International had been empiricist, and
de- fined it as “centrist”. He analysed the zig-zags of the line which, since 1923,
had ended in disasters, because it was based on an incorrect appreciation of class
forces. The leadership had failed to accept that capitalism was being “stabilised”
until eighteen months after the defeat in Germany,—when the first signs of a
resurgence of the working class were appearing, and when their right-ist policy
was holding the class back. The disaster of the Chinese Revolution provoked a
new turn to the left, at the precise moment when the offensive was no longer on
the agenda. Trotsky criticised Bukharin ’s piecemeal analysis, and declared that
the dominating factor was the growing hegemony of USA, to source not only of
the initial stabilisation, but also of crises to come. “A great crisis in USA would
once again sound the alarm for new wars and revolutions to come.” The theory of
“Socialism in a Single Country” and the pseudo-Bolshevisation, which converted
the Communist Parties into docile instruments in the hands of their apparatus of
functionaries, carried with them the risk that, in the end, these parties would be
incapable of exploiting new revolutionary situations.

The letters from Trotsky ’s correspondents—which Deutscher quotes—are

evidence of the echo of Trotsky ’s ideas in the Congress. Ercoli complains that the
delegates were generally servile. Thorez admits that he did not feel quite in
agreement with this theory of “Socialism in a Single Country” (29). James P.
Cannon, a delegate of the minority in the Communist Party of USA, was to found
the Left Opposition in his country (30). But in any case the delegates, whether
“left” or “right”, were no better able to deal with the official theses than was
Bukharin himself; he was defending positions which he believed to be
catastrophic, but which he accepted and defended against his own ideas.

The Attack on the Positions of the Right-ists

Meanwhile the struggle was being prepared on its decisive level, that of the
apparatus of the Russian party. Slepkov was removed from Leningrad by the
secretariat and transferred to Siberia. This left Kirov a free hand. In Moscow
Uglanov tried to make use of his own apparatus fraction against the policy of the
secretariat; employing the same tactic as Bukharin, he secured the adoption by
the Moscow Committee of a motion which strongly condemned the policy of the
party against the kulaks, attributing it exclusively to the Trotskyists. Pravda replied
on September 15 with a call for the “struggle on two fronts”, and denounced the
existence in the party of a “right deviation”, which was opportunist and
“conciliatory” to the kulaks. The pressure of the central apparatus stirred up
reactions in the Moscow regional committee and, in particular, accused Uglanov
’s right-hand man, Riutin, of adopting “right-ist” positions. The General Secretary
caught the ball on the bounce and relieved Riutin of his functions, over Uglanov ’s
head, for “a serious mistake”. He stressed the “discontent of active militants”
with “the inconsistency and hesitations of certain members of the Moscow
Committee in the struggle against the right deviation … and their conciliatory
attitude” (31). Uglanov ’s defeat was already complete; on September 18 at the
Moscow Committee no one applauded his report, and Riutin made his self-
criticism. On September 19 Stalin delivered the coup de grace in person; he
denounced “the right deviation and the tendencies to conciliation with it” (32).
The Moscow Committee decided to “re-organise”; one after another the
secretaries in the region criticised Uglanov and demanded a full self-criticism from

The tension was rising at the very top of the party by November. The battle over
the Moscow Committee led Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky to call for the apparatus
to be re-organised. They could not obtain a meeting of the commission which
should deal with the question. They could see that Stalin was continually gaining
time in this way and decided to strike a great blow; they simultaneously resigned
from their positions as President of the International and chief editor of Pravda ,
as President of the Council of People ’s Commissars and as President of the trade
unions. This was a serious slap in the face for Stalin, who had just denied in
Moscow that there were any differences in the Politburo. So he negotiated, and
the three agreed to withdraw their resignations, in exchange for a unanimous
vote giving agriculture priority over heavy industry. In this way the Poliburo
presented itself in unanimity to the Central Committee, and the Central
Committee could still unanimously condemn “the right deviation”, which Stalin
showed in his speech to be linked to the Left Opposition. In this way the leaders
of the right gave their approval to the campaign of the apparatus against their
ideas and their supporters. Rykov was even to threaten them with measures
going beyond the ideological campaign, if the right opposition dared “to take
form”. The bastion of the right in Moscow was officially taken from them.
Uglanov lost the position of secretary, and was replaced by Molotov, with
Baumann as his deputy.

The campaign of the “centre” was indeed going forward. In the middle of the
battle against the Moscow right-wingers, on October 19, the Central Committee
agreed a statement laying down a new industrial policy:

”Because of our technical backwardness, we cannot develop industry to

such a level that it not only is not behind the capitalist countries, but catches
up and surpasses them, without our setting to work all the forces of our
land, without great perseverance and iron discipline in the proletarian rank
s” (33).

It defined the hesitations of certain layers of the working class and of certain
sections of the party as “running away from the difficulties”. The Economic
Council opposed the proposal of a Five-Year Plan for industry, and a collision
became inevitable with the second of the great bastions of the right, the trade
unions, over which Tomsky presided.

Tomsky was a heavy-fisted bureaucrat. Trotsky called him “the Gompers of the
Soviet State”. He had thoroughly made up his mind to preserve for the unions
their general function of defending the workers ’ interests, which was the basis of
his personal power and, in his opinion, an indispensable element of Soviet
organisation. The new policy would reduce the role of the trade unions simply to
the struggle to raise profits and production. In June 1928 the Central Committee
criticised numerous “bureaucratic abuses” in the activity of the trade union
apparatus, and called on the party “fractions” to work to correct them. In this
way the party could intervene directly over Tomsky ’s head.

At the time when Uglanov was being displaced, Pravda turned its guns on the
rightists in the trade unions and attacked them for refusing to criticise themselves
and failing to mobilise the masses for socialist construction. At the All-Russian
Congress of the trade unions (at the end of December 1928) Tomsky admitted
some deficiencies, but proposed new efforts to raise workers ’ pay generally.
None the less, the Communist fraction presented a motion condemning the right-
ists; it called for accelerated industrialisation and rejected the “purely working-
class” conception of the trade unions—the tasks of which were “to mobilise the
masses” to “overcome the difficulties of the reconstruction period” (34). This was
carried by an overwhelming majority. After having rejected Tomsky in this way,
the Conference elected to the new leadership five important members of the
party apparatus, Kaganovich, Kuibyshev, Ordzhonikidze, Rudzutak and Zhdanov.
Tomsky was re-elected President, but refused to resume his functions after he
had lost control of the organisation.

The right was well and truly beaten, and almost at once had to battle against a
measure which raised a serious threat over its head. Trotsky had been summoned
to give up all political activity. On December 16 he had refused, since that would
mean “recanting” and giving up the struggle which he had waged for thirty-three
years. Despite the opposition of the three, and the desperate efforts of Bukharin,
as well as the opposition of another member of the Politburo (probably
Kuibyshev), Stalin obtained a decision to expel Trotsky from the territory of the
USSR. According to the minutes of this meeting, as Trotsky published them, this
decision stated:

”Trotsky must be exiled abroad:

1) because as long as he remains in the country he is capable of ideologically

leading the Opposition, the numerical strength of which continues to grow:

2) in order that he may be discredited in the eyes of the masses as an accomplice

of the bourgeoisie, as soon as he arrives in a bourgeois country:

3) in order to discredit him in the eyes of the world proletariat; the Social-
Democracy will no doubt utilise his exile to attack the USSR and will fly to Trotsky
’s help as ‘a victim of Bolshevik terror ’:

4) If Trotsky attacks the leadership by making revelations, we can present him as a

traitor. All this speaks in favour of exiling him”(35).

The GPU arrested him with his whole family on January 22, 1929, and expelled him
to Turkey. The last journey began for him on “the planet without a visa”. Pravda
announced on January 23 that another one hundred and fifty people had been
arrested for “illegal Trotskyist activity”, including Budu Mdivani, Drobin,
Pankratov and Voronsky.

The Political Liquidation of the Right-ists

R. V. Daniels remarks (36): “The history of the right opposition offers the singular
spectacle of a political group which was defeated first and attacked afterwards”.
In fact, the fiction of unanimity in the Politburo was maintained up to January
1929 even to the Central Committee. Then, in February 1929, Stalin demanded that
the Control Commission enquire into conversations which Bukharin had had with
Kamenev; these had been revealed in Trotskyist leaflets in Moscow. Bukharin
accepted the challenge to battle, admitted that the contacts had taken place, and
counter-attacked in the Politburo. He denied that he had resorted to fractional
activity and attacked the bureaucratisation of an apparatus on which the General
Secretary was obsolute master and not a single regional secretary was elected. He
denounced the new political economy as “a military-feudal exploitation of the
peasantry”, by the levy of tribute; he called for a reduction in the speed at which
industry was to be developed and for the maintenance of the free market. The
three once more resigned. They were accused of breaking up the unity of the
leadership and of threatening that of the party. For all that, in the end they again
withdrew their resignations (Rykov was the first), but refused to recant their
errors. On February 27, 1929, Molotov, writing in Pravda without naming any
names at all; threatened that:

”The theory of the peaceful integration of the kulak into socialism means in
practice abandoning the offensive against the kulak. It leads to emancipating
capitalist elements and ultimately to re-establishing the-power of the

At the April session of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission
the attacks of Stalin, Molotov and Kaganovich were directed against the three,
this time by name. They were evidently in a minority. In order to avoid being
publicly condemned, they agreed to vote for resolutions in favour of a Five-Year
Plan for industry, contenting themselves with councelling caution and warning
against “abolishing Nep”. The Central Committee, accordingly, condemned them
for having “hidden their real attitude”. Stalin launched a veritable indictment
against Bukharin, accusing him of defending “the integration of the capitalists
into socialism”, and of conceptions which “lull the working class to sleep, hold up
the mobilisation of the revolutionary forces and facilitate the offensive of
capitalist elements”. “Bukharin ’: plan”, he announced, “aims at slowing down
the development of industry and undermining the new forms of alliance between
workers and peasants”. Bukharin complained that the party had subjected him to
“civic degradation” by criticising him in public when he was obliged to remain
silent. Stalin asked him—with a straight face—why he had not taken his part in
the struggle against the right deviation: “Does the Bukharin group understand
that to fail to struggle against the right deviation is to betray the working class
and to betray the revolution?”. He concluded: “The party demands that you wage
a resolute struggle against the right deviation and against the spirit of
conciliation, at the side of every member of the Central Committee of our party …
Either you will do what the party demands of you—and the party will
congratulate you—or you will not, in which case you have no one to blame but
yourselves: (37).

The quarrel was still not out in public. At the Sixteenth Conference of the party
(April 23, 1929 onwards) Rykov defended the Five-Year plan, while Kuibyshev
threatened the “petty bourgeois elements”, “defeatists” and “those who lacked
confidence”. Baumann took Uglanov ’s place in the Politburo. In June Tomsky was
eliminated from the trade union leadership and replaced by Chvernik. On July 3,
Bukharin was relieved of the Presidency of the International and excluded from
the Executive, an operation which Ercoli facilitated by going over to the Stalinist
fraction at the last minute.
This decision was not made public until August 21. That date marked the opening
of the systematic, public denunciation of the “mistakes” of Bukharin. At the
Central Committee meeting in November, Uglanov recanted his errors. The three
tried to get it conceded that they had presented a different method of approach
for a policy with which they were perfectly in agreement. For this “fractional
manoeuvre” they were denounced and Bukharin was excluded from the
Politburo. Finally, on November 26, 1929, they capitulated completely: “In the
course of the last eighteen months, there have been differences between us and
the majority of the Central Committee of the party on a number of political and
tactical questions. We have presented our views in a series of documents and
declarations to the plenary session and other sessions of the Central Committee
and the Central Control Commission of the party. We believe that it is our duty to
declare that, in this discussion, the party and the Committee have been correct.
Our views, presented in documents which are well-known, have been shown to
be erroneous. In recognising our mistakes, we shall for our part make every effort
to carry on in common with the whole party a resolute struggle against all
deviations from the general line and, in particular, against all the deviations of the
right and the tendency to conciliation, in order to over- come every difficulty and
to ensure the fastest possible victory of socialist construction” (38).

In this way the most brilliant of the Bolshevik theoreticians rejoined the band of
“dead souls” which several months before, the group of conciliators from the
Left Opposition, Preobrazhensky, Radek and Smilga had swollen. The long death-
agony of the Bolshevik Party was well and truly ended. Trotsky was abroad and a
handful of irreconcilables, Rakovsky, Sosnovsky and Solntsev still defended in
Siberia the ideas which form part of the heritage of Bolshevism but which were no
longer current in the party which claimed to be Bolshevik. A historic period was
ended. Another period opened when Stalin announced on December 27, 1929, in
an article entitled, “To the Devil with the NEP”, what was to be the “great turn”.
For the men who had been the leaders of the first victorious proletarian
revolution, this turn was to be the first stage on the road which would take them
to their ignominious or obscure deaths.

The self-criticism of Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky closed a chapter in the history of
the party. There would never again be a public debate. The Congresses would
never be anything again but great displays, where the published minutes
suggested what had been discussed only in a very distorted way, or at any rate
what had been the internal differences. The Central Committee become a purely
decorative organism. More and more a dead weight, its membership rose from 40
in 1923 to 52 in 1914 and 71 in 1927. The divergences which the Right expressed in
the Politburo were the last of which any echo reached the outside world for
nearly thirty years. Political divergences—which always existed—were thereafter
to be resolved at the heart of the apparatus, in the leading coteries. To be sure,
there were no more tendencies or fractions, but there were clans and cliques and
personal alliances of interests, replacing political associations, no more political
debates, but settlements of accounts.
We may ask whether Old Bolsheviks like Rykov, Tomsky and Bukharin, in the
middle of “confessing” their errors, took the measure of the last political act of
their career and appreciated the depth of the change in the nature of the party
which demanded this renunciation, this veritable moral suicide. Arthur Rosenberg
suggests that they were aware of having become, independently of their will, the
virtual leaders of an organised opposition of neo-bourgeois elements: an open
resistance on their part would have represented an encouragement in the
struggle to all the pro-capitalist layers which were already numerous and powerful
in Russian society, and that they would themselves have precipitated the counter-
revolutionary wave for which Stalin ’s policy had created the conditions (39).
Trotsky was not far from advancing the same interpretation of their attitude
when he wrote in October 1928:

”The Right-wingers, whether they like it or not, are obliged to get into the cold
water. That means trying to end their quarrel with Stalin by apparatus means … If
they were to oppose the centre seriously, they ought to have bawled and shouted
at the top of their voices, which means in an ultra-reactionary tone, a
Thermidorean tone. But Bukharin still had no stomach for that. He put his foot
into the cold water, but he was frightened to get down into it. He remains
immobile and trembling—with courage. Behind him, Rykov and Tomsky watch
what is going on and are ready to run off and hide in the bushes at any moment”

The following month, Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky finally refused to plunge into
the cold water, in the same way as a year earlier they had given up the chance to
join the devil Trotsky in the hell of a “bloc” to defend democracy. We must accept
that we cannot answer the question whether they did or did not understand that,
in doing so, they sealed at one and the same time their own fate and that of the
Bolshevik party which was giving way under its contradictions.


1. Among other sources, see “The Platform of the Left Opposition”, in “Leon Trotsky: The Challenge
of the Left Opposition (1926—27), Pathfinder Press, NY 1980, p. 301ff.

2. Correspondance Internationale, No. 54, June 9, 1928, pp. 642—644.

3. “Notes of an Economist”, in Correspondance Internationale, No. 126, October 20, 1928, p. 1369.

4. Ibid., p. 1370.

5. Ibid., p. 1371.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., p. 1372.

8. Ibid.

9. Correspondance Internationale, No. 127, October 24, 1928, p. 131K8.

10. Ibid., No. 128, October 27, 1928, p. 1407.

11. Ibid., No. 131, October 31, 1928, passim.

12. Pravda , September 12, 1928, quoted in Daniels, “The Conscience of the Revolution” p. 355.

13. Pravda , January 24, 1928, quoted in Daniels, op. cit., p. 355.

14. Quoted in Daniels, op. cit., p. 356.

15. Trotsky, “What Now?”, in “The Third International After Lenin”, Pioneer ed. 1936, pp. 285—6.

16. Quoted in Deutscher, “Prophet Unarmed”, p. 417.

17. Quoted in Deutscher, “Prophet Unarmed”, from an article “On the Left Course”, in the Trotsky

18. Quoted in Deutscher, “Prophet Unarmed”, p. 421.

19. V. Serge, “La Vie et la Mortde Trotsky”, pp. 213—4.

20. Sosnovsky, “Lettres d ’exil”, in “La Lutte des Classes”, No. 17, January 30, 1929, p. 71.

21. Correspondance Internationale, No. 102, October 9, 1929, p. 1415.

22. Reproduced by Trotsky in “Les Crimes de Staline”, Paris, Grasset, 1938, p. 245.

23. Report by Bukharin to the 9th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist
International is in Correspondance Internationale, No. 18, February 27, 1928, pp. 231—239. His
closing speech is in Correspondance Internationale, No. 27, March 1928, p. 357. The report of the
Sixth Congress is in the special issue of August 1, 1928, No. 72, pp. 833—847, and particularly pp.
840, 841, 843.

24. Correspondance Internationale, No. 84, August 16, 1928, p. 887.

25. Correspondance Internationale, No. 89, August 22, p. 949.

26. Ibid.

27. Correspondance Internationale, No. 89, August 22, p. 950.

28. Trotsky in “What Now?”, in “The Third International After Lenin”, Pioneer ed. NY 1936, p. 246.

29. Deutscher, “Prophet Unarmed”, p. 444.

30. Cannon, “History of American Trotskyism”, pp. 49—50.

31. Quoted in Daniels, “The Conscience of the Revolution”, p. 352.

32. Correspondance Internationale, No. 312, November 3, 1928, pp. 1454—1457.

33. Quoted in Daniels, op. cit., p. 352.

34. Correspondance Internationale, No. 1, January 5, 1929, pp. 4—5.

35. Bulletin of the Opposition, July 1929, reproduced by N. Sedova in “Fourth International”, No. 1,
1942, p. 11.

36. Daniels, op. cit., p. 362.

37. J. Stalin, “Speech delivered at the Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU in April 1929”,
in “Leninism”, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1933, Vol 2, p. 240.

38. Correspondance Internationale, No. 118, November 30, 1929, p. 1578.

39. Arthur Rosenberg, “History of Bolehsvism”.

40. Trotskys “Letter on the Political Situation in the USSR”, in “Lutte des Classes”, No. 8, February
1929, pp. 220—1.